ethical vegetarianism

Creative Commons © 2008 Victoria Henderson
Creative Commons © 2008 Victoria Henderson

Disclaimer: This post contains content that may get a rise out of people. That is totally fine! Feel your feelings. But please, always be respectful when expressing them. Let’s have a calm, productive discourse, like the intelligent adults we all are. Thank you! 🙂 

I have been a vegetarian for three and a half years now. It was an overnight decision, a quick change that stuck fast. I read Jonathan Safran Foer’s book, Eating Animals, and was so thoroughly disturbed by everything it contained that I gave up eating meat immediately upon finishing the last page. There wasn’t a lot of dithering or weighing of pros and cons, it was a gut instinct that this was the right thing to do.

So I am a vegetarian for ethical reasons. While I recognize that animal agriculture here in Canada is not necessarily exactly the same as it is in the United States, and that most documentaries and books focus on the US, I still firmly believe that we have a moral imperative to treat animals with dignity before we kill them for our food. I still firmly believe that there are many ways that we can be better. I am not morally opposed to the concept of eating meat, not by any means. I don’t think you are a monster for eating meat, or that we are ingesting an animal’s fear, or whatever else. I don’t care that a piglet has a cute little face. I have no issues with using animals as sustenance. I have issues with treating them with cruelty before killing them for consumption. I have issues with the ethos of factory farming. I have issues with the idea that animals are lesser than us and therefore are undeserving of respect and quality of life.

But for the last six months, I have been coming back, again and again, to the idea that I should go back to eating meat. This isn’t an easy thing for me to contemplate. If I had given up meat simply because I didn’t like it, then it wouldn’t be a big deal for me to resume eating it because I suddenly had a hankering for it. But because I gave up meat from a moral standpoint, I have been struggling mightily with the idea that I might go back to eating it. At one point, I was convinced that I would never eat meat again, and that we would raise our children as vegetarians as well.

Part of the reason I am considering transitioning back to my previously omnivorous ways is, yes, because I miss meat. Just a little. When we are staying at my parents’ house and they cook up a big pan of bacon after church, I would be lying if I said I hadn’t been tempted on more than one occasion to throw vegetarianism out the window then and there and scarf down a few pieces. Sometimes, I just really want a burger, you know?

But there are bigger reasons than that. And they are this: I don’t believe that abstaining from meat consumption is the most effective way for me to make my stance on factory farming known. If I am standing here, saying, “Factory farmers, you are bad, so I am going to stop eating meat!” then I am also depriving small, ethical farmers of my business. And what is more effective: being a passive bystander, or actively giving my money to the change that I want to see? I want to see more ethically produced meat, and, yes, I am absolutely willing to pay more money for it. I think that this is the way that meat production should be: less quantity, higher quality, more ethical. So I should be putting my money where my mouth is. It isn’t enough to remove my support from factory farmers: I should be transferring it over to the farmers who are doing exactly what I think should be done. If those farmers are out there, doing things right, but not getting enough support, then they are going to vanish, and we are right back where we started.

I haven’t come to a conclusion yet. It is still percolating around in my mind, but every time I think about it, I draw closer and closer to the decision to return to the land of the meat eaters. I am still coming to terms with what that means for my ethics, but I’ll get there.

For now: have you ever made a change for ethical reasons and then changed your mind again later? And if you have any resources on the vegetarianism debate, please feel free to share them.

ethical vegetarianism

it’s not about me

I have been realizing this more and more lately: it is not about me.

For a long time, I have felt this gaping hole in the center of my chest, this sense of missing something, of being, slightly, crookedly, incomplete. I have spent countless hours worrying about it, thinking about it, searching for it, whatever it is. What is my purpose? What am I supposed to be doing? Why am I here? How can I make myself feel whole?

And I am starting to realize that it probably isn’t really about me, after all.

I received an email in my inbox the other day from an online business guru, talking about how people always say things like, “I want to run an online business and have passive income and work a flexible schedule.” And his response is, “Well, la de da, who cares what you want? What does your customer want?”

I have been reading a book entitled If You Find this Letter by Hannah Brencher, the founder of The World Needs More Love Letters, an organization that I discovered through her book and fell immediately, passionately, manically in love with. It is funny, because I thought, somewhere, she said the words, “It wasn’t about me.” And maybe she did. But I have been scanning and scanning and scanning the book, and for the life of me, I cannot find it. So I am forced to assume that it was an idea that was conveyed subtly, rather than explicitly stated. Either way, it hit me in the chest, and I immediately pulled my journal towards me and wrote the words IT IS NOT ABOUT ME across the top of a page in big bold letters.

Because maybe what I am looking for is not about me. Maybe it isn’t about what I need, but about what other people need, and how who I am can somehow meet those needs. Maybe I have been looking in all the wrong places because I have been focused on me when I needed to be focused on those outside of me.

At this point, I don’t know what that looks like. I don’t know what that will lead to. But for now, I am committed to seeing the world from a slightly different perspective; a “what can I do for you” perspective, rather than a “what can you do for me” one (thanks, JFK). I started, simply, hopefully, with writing a few anonymous love letters to leave for strangers. I think Hannah would approve.

We’ll see where all this goes. But I have hope.

it’s not about me

the origins of love

The first time I watched my favorite movie, at the tender age of 14, seated between a close friend and the boy who had a strange and uncomfortable crush on her, I hated it. Reviled it. Love Actually? Abomination Actually. I couldn’t figure out why we had wasted time or money or energy on it. It made me feel weird. (Especially given my seatmates.) I told everyone about how awful it was. I went on and on about it at length. Probably too much length.

Now, I watch it at least once a year and cry happy tears and fist pump from my couch at the end.

Similarly, both of my best friendships began with some level of hate.

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My cousin and I have a rocky origin story. I remember this only peripherally, mostly from family lore rather than my own experiences. I have one memory of sitting on my grandmother’s lap, sobbing that Matt and Aly were being mean to me, but other than that, our early animosity seems to have left little imprint on me.

Not so the years of love and companionship that followed. There was a simultaneous discovery of Harry Potter (well, truthfully, she beat me to one of my truest loves, informing me that Quidditch was amazing and giving me a knowing, oh-you-don’t-know-what-you’re-in-for look when I said, “What’s Quidditch?). There were extended shopping trips, and a loving snarkiness when I would babble on, happily using words like “daft”, and she would say to me, “Why do you use such big words?” and I’d respond, “Daft is only four letters, Aly,” with a withering sarcasm that hid my self-consciousness.

© Kaihla Tonai
© Kaihla Tonai

There were the long, lazy summer trips to the lake that seemed to go on forever, where we shared a bunk bed and mooned over the hotness of David Boreanaz while we snuck my stepmom’s Cosmopolitan magazines into our room and locked the door, laughing uproariously over the stories of blow jobs and sex in the backseat of a cab, horrified and thrilled and wondering if our lives would ever be like that (thankfully, not really). We horrified my siblings with stories of the Turtle Lake monster (which I thought we made up, but there is a Wikipedia page for it, so maybe not!). We stayed up late, talking far into the night, sometimes while she slept and I didn’t even know it until the next morning.

And later, we celebrated the births of her children, and my marriage, and many other things together. On visits, we make peanut butter cookies and talk about everything, stuffing our faces and laughing. She is my best friend and as close as a sister. Our origins are overshadowed by the bright love that we share now.

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The tumultuous beginning of my friendship with Bri is a lot clearer for me. We met in grade 10 English, and she was smart and pretty and popular, and I loathed her. I remember muttering, “I hate that girl,” one day in class after she gave a (perfect) answer, and the guy next to me gave me a look of surprise. “Who, Bri? She is so nice.” I brushed it off with a disbelieving grunt, but I slammed up against that surprise again and again and again, at which point I had to grudgingly admit that perhaps was the one being hateful. I tentatively reached out after yet another friend of mine had insisted upon Bri’s wonderfulness, and we began spending a bit of time together during class projects. I clearly still hadn’t gotten over my initial aversion to her awesomeness, though, because one day, while working on a project in the computer lab, I made a comment about thinking that Diane Kroger was the most beautiful woman in the world, to which Bri responded, “I think you’re the most beautiful woman in the world,” obviously meaning to be sweet and complimentary. I gave her the most cutting look I could muster (and my cutting looks can be razor sharp) and said, “I think you should go die.”

She still tells that story.

But we became closer and closer, and I have been lucky enough to call her my best friend for years. Nearly a decade, in fact. We have had our share of rough patches (some rougher than others), and there have been times when our friendship teetered on the brink of utter destruction. But we have always come back from those times stronger and better than ever, and in the last five years, as we have grown and matured together, those times have become fewer and further between. In fact, I don’t remember the last time we had one. Though she lives far away from me, across the country and several time zones away, I still text her every day. To share news, to ask her advice, just to tell her I am thinking of her.

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Origins are important. Knowing where we come from is essential to our identities. But our origins do not tell us where we are headed. They do not tell us who will we become. The way something begins does not predict the way that it will end. Assuming that it does would have robbed me of the two most exceptional, beautiful friendships in my life. Know where you come from, so that you know where you are starting from. But then turn and face forward, and walk into the future, knowing that it will probably still surprise you.

the origins of love

The Failure Challenge: Volleyball Edition

Growing up, I was never great at team sports. I like to take control, to do things my way. I was always the person who would say, “No, no, I don’t want to talk” when we were doing group presentations, and then inevitably jump in and talk for half our time (oh God, you don’t even need to tell me how annoying that must have been). I did gymnastics, kickboxing, bellydancing; anything that I could do by myself.

I also harbored a belief that you were either born athletic or you were not. I believed that athleticism was an innate trait that I could not foster in myself, and that I had been born unathletic, and there was nothing I could do to change that. So I didn’t try. Then I proceeded to complain about how unhealthy I was. (Sigh.)

In the past five years, I have been working on changing that. I have learned a lot of things about myself in the process, including that I am as athletic as I want myself to be. I have done the Insanity workout program twice through, run a half-marathon, gotten deep into my yoga practice. I have achieved things that I would not have dreamed possible at the age of 17.

This past fall, my cousins mentioned that they were playing recreational volleyball, and they wanted Bryan to play with them. They also extended the invitation to me, but I waved it away, mostly because the idea of playing a team sport made my heart pound with trepidation. And volleyball? I was that girl in gym class who ducked every time the volleyball came her way. But after a day of thinking about it, I realized that I wanted to try it, for the very reason that I had originally said no: it made my heart pound with fear, and I believed I was terrible at team sports.

I hadn’t started my failure challenge yet, but I was already in that mindset.

We played one season, and, to my great surprise, I kind of enjoyed playing. I wasn’t very good: I hadn’t played volleyball in almost eight years, and the other people on our team were much more experienced. I made a lot of bad plays. I suffered from a lack of confidence. As with many co-ed teams, I got frustrated with the way the boys seemed to assume that I wouldn’t be able to do something, and so they stepped in to do it for me.

Then, for me, the season ended on a rough note, with a bad game where emotions got out of control, and I felt like I had been badly treated. I thought that I was done, that I wouldn’t play again. That I had tried it out, but that I didn’t want to go through all of that again. Still, I waffled. A large part of me had enjoyed playing, and the only reason I was undecided was because my confidence and ego had taken a battering. So I sucked it up, and signed up to play again.

We are four games into our season now, and I am playing much better. Two weeks ago, I had the best game I’ve ever had, even making a few key plays. Last week, we beat the best team in the league. I am beginning to enjoy the experience again. Here are a few things that I have learned from this sojourn into team sport territory.

  1. I am responsible for how I play, no one else. Just because someone doesn’t believe that I am capable of making the play doesn’t mean it’s true.
  2. I do not have to be affected by how someone else is responding to a situation. Other people have the right to their own emotions and responses, and so do I. Someone else getting frustrated or responding badly doesn’t mean that I have to respond that way too, and it doesn’t mean that I have to start feeling badly about myself or how I am playing. I am the one who makes that call.
  3. I do not have to be forced into a box that I don’t want to be in. Playing on a co-ed team can be an interesting experience. The boys on our team are more athletic than I am, have more experience with volleyball, and more experience with sports in general. They tend to be more confident and more assertive on the court. One of my cousins likes to be in control, and will often step in to take over a situation even when it is not necessary. I have learned that I don’t actually have to do exactly what he tells me to do. If I miss a serve once, I don’t actually have to step back and let someone else take the next serve, even if they tell me to. I can analyze the situation, adjust myself, and attack the ball on my own terms.
  4. Having my own measurements for success is very liberating, and I can celebrate those for myself. I am a competitive person, but winning a game is not my only measurement for success, especially because I am not a star volleyball player. My measurements for success are often things such as getting several serves over the net in a row, getting the ball more often than not getting the ball, and being there and ready to make a play even if the play doesn’t happen. Being able to look at these events and judge how my game went rather than simply the score on the board is a much more objective measurement of how well I am doing and what I am learning, which is a huge confidence booster, which then helps me play better in the next game. And so on, and so forth.
  5. I don’t have to apologize every time a play doesn’t go exactly right, or I make a mistake. I noticed that the boys on our team rarely, if ever, apologize for not making a play or for messing one up. But nearly every other word out of my mouth was, “Sorry, guys.” Even when something wasn’t my fault. So I made the decision to stop saying I was sorry. And that has also helped with my confidence. Things happen, my team will deal.

Ultimately, I am glad that I decided to try this thing that scared the pants off of me. Seeing how I have already grown over the last five months has been an amazing boost to my confidence in so many other areas.

Is there anything that you have tried recently that really scared you? What have you learned from the experience?

 

The Failure Challenge: Volleyball Edition

the transformation of dreams

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…and it can be really hard to admit.

I have long dreamed of many things: traveling extensively; living abroad, in many different countries; being a published author; having children. Some of those dreams have stayed the same, while others have morphed and transformed. For a long time, I wanted to move to Vancouver. I thought about it all the time, often searched for apartments for rent and available jobs in my down time, and fantasized about all of the amazing things that we would do when we were finally there.

And then one day, not too long ago, I realized: Lately, I’ve been having to talk myself into wanting to move to Vancouver. 

I would forget about it for a while, and then remember, and then go, “Oh, right, Vancouver. Because the winter is milder, and, uh, the mountains! And the ocean. And, um…other stuff that they have there.” I discovered that, because I had always wanted to move to Vancouver, some part of me thought that I had to always want that. So when that part of me realized that it wasn’t really something that I wanted anymore, it tried its best to talk me back into it.

But I have realized that, sometimes, dreams change. And that is okay! If dreams didn’t change, that would mean that we were the same people that we had always been, and there are few situations in which stagnation is a good thing. Changing dreams means that we are discovering new things about ourselves, growing and changing as people, and re-evaluating our world and our wants and needs accordingly. How could that be a bad thing?

I know that it can be scary. I know that it can seem like having to let go of who you thought you were, or some idea of who you should be by now. It does mean that. Letting go of preconceived notions of who and what we should be is supremely difficult, and I do not dispute that. But embracing who you are now and how far you have come and how the things that you want out of life have changed because of that is very empowering, and I gently suggest that you try it, if you haven’t already.

I no longer want desperately to move to Vancouver, but I am not opposed to the idea if the opportunity arises.

I no longer want to live abroad in Australia, but I am absolutely down for a visit that lasts a month or two.

I no longer dream of a big house full of stuff, but am happily fantasizing about the tiny house that we are going to build.

I no longer want six children, but am very excited for the two we will eventually have.

Throughout our lives, our experiences change us. That is a good thing. It stands to reason, then, that our dreams changing is a good thing, too.

What dreams have you let go of because they no longer serve you?

the transformation of dreams

The Failure Challenge

I recently read the book The Confidence Code by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, which was a scientific and sociological look into the gender gap in confidence and how women can address this in their own lives. The biggest piece of advice that I gleaned from the book – which is well-written, accessible, and applicable, and you should read it, man or woman – was to stop fearing failure. Fail fast. Fail often. And in looking at my life, I realized that there were not too many instances that I could look at and say, “That. That was a time that you failed.” Some people might hear that and think, “Yeah, yeah, go ahead and brag about how great you are, without any failures in your past,” but in reality, it means that I have been playing it too safe.

I don’t want to play my life safe. I want to play my life big and grand, I want to take risks and experience things, and that means that I need to stop shying away from failure.

For a while now, I have had the idea for a failure challenge bouncing around in my brain. There was a draft of a blog post on my previous blog entitled The Failure Challenge, and there has been one on this blog for the past six or so months now, too. I started to write it, and then I thought, “Nah, this is pointless.” So I scrapped it. Deleted it completely. But then, as I read The Confidence Code, I realized that I was on to something, something that could enhance my life and set me up for further success, as well as showing other people that failure is not something to be reviled and avoided at all costs.

So was re-born The Failure Challenge.

There is an app that I am going to check out that gives you daily rejection challenges, to help inure you against the pain of hearing the word “no.” I guess there are challenges such as, “Walk up to a stranger on the street and ask to borrow $50.” I am uncertain of how much I will use the app, if at all, but if I do, I will definitely be chronicling my adventures here. (In doing some Googling, I discovered that there is also a game that you can buy! Cool.)

A few other ways that I plan on confronting my fear of failure:

  • I have always loved the idea of performing, and the few times I did it were incredible and exhilarating, but the anticipation of performing is enough to make me sick to my stomach. So I am going to seek out some performance opportunities. I’ve been debating taking singing lessons because I really enjoy singing, and I am also thinking about finding a play that I can audition for.
  • In the same vein, I fear improv. With a deep, deep terror. I loved my high school drama class and my high school drama teacher, and even so, one of the only disagreements we ever had was when she forced me to do improv and I threw a hissy fit because I was terrified. We have a great improv group here in Edmonton, and they offer workshops. So I am going to do one of those workshops. Improv is all about saying yes, and getting over your fear of looking stupid. Sounds perfect, right?
  • Start making the stationery I have been talking about making for more than a year. There is literally not a single reason why I haven’t started yet except that I am afraid of sucking at it.
  • Submit writing work to publications.

And anything else that makes me want to curl into a ball of armadillo-like terror.

I am really looking forward to stepping out of my comfort zone (hahah, right, I actually feel like I am going to puke, but that’s okay). I hope that you guys will join me for the journey and we can all learn something new together!

Does anyone have any experience with purposefully seeking out rejection and failure? I would love to hear about it in the comments!

 

The Failure Challenge

An Open Letter

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I found this letter in my journal. It was originally addressed to my younger sisters, and I hope that they read it, but I think that it could help other people too. I hope that it does.

It is hard to be a girl, it’s true. It is hard to be a person, I think. I remember being 14, 15, 19. I remember the pain of my first breakup at 14, my second at 15, my more-than-third-but-arguably-much-more-important-because-it-taught-me-self-worth at 19.

You are strong, intelligent, funny, charming, resourceful, talented, capable people. There is not a lot that you can’t do, and I want you to remember that when shit gets hard.

Because it will. That is the nature of life; it is good, but it is hard, and knowing that you are a valuable, worthy person goes a long way to help you push through those times.

Know that you are worthy of love and respect, and that no one has the right to treat you poorly. NO ONE. Know that you have the power to walk away from those who you treat you with anything less than dignity. They aren’t worthy of your time. This includes friends, lovers, family, co-workers, etc. Know that you do not have to accept harassment of any kind, that you do not have to give in just because a boy (or girl or adult) says so. Know that you have the right to control your own body and do what you please with it. Don’t let people call you a slut or a tease or a prude or any number of things that are none of their business. Your worth as a person has nothing to do with how many people you have or have not slept with.

Know that you have a voice, and you have the right to use it. That you have the right to be heard. When you have something to say, say it. Don’t fall back and let other people talk over you. Don’t let someone else take the credit for what you just said. Let your words be heard. Stand up and say, “I am here. I said that. I have an opinion.”

Know, too, that your opinion is not necessarily fact, and that free speech does not exempt you from the consequences of speaking. Be prepared to defend what you believe, and to eat it when you are wrong. Be open to other people’s perspectives. This is a delicate balancing act that few people, myself included, seem capable of achieving, but it’s important that you keep trying.

Understand that following your dreams is not a selfish act, that feeding the fire in your soul benefits the world with its light. Don’t let anyone else tell you that your dreams aren’t worth pursuing, or that you should be more reasonable. Forget caution and overthinking things and stepping carefully in the footsteps that society has laid out for you. Follow your own path; if it happens to coincide with societal expectations, okay, but if not, fuck it, and go out there with a machete to bushwhack a new path.

Don’t stress about being the best or getting the highest grades. Worry about being true to yourself, putting in your best effort, and treating people right. Remember that you are both deeply fortunate and not the center of the universe; help people when you can.

Life is excruciatingly long and heartbreakingly short. I want you to soak up every beautiful, garbage moment of it. I want you to live the best life possible. I could not have been blessed with better sisters.

Cry when you need to cry, stick up for yourself when necessary, pursue your dreams, and be kind. You are worthy and you are loved.

All my love.

An Open Letter

Meaningful, Not Big

The other day, I was reading Anna’s beautiful post about her mother, and one thing she said really stuck out for me:

8. Life doesn’t have to be BIG to be meaningful. She never held a high-powered job. She never went on a single exotic vacation, traveled the world, or met famous people, but she is still remembered all of these years later for how she made people feel.

This really struck a chord with me. I have a lot of big, big dreams: travel the world, live abroad, publish a book, do this, do that. The list doesn’t seem to end. And I get anxious sometimes that I am not going to achieve those things, and worry that I will regret it deeply one day, at that proverbial deathbed moment.

What I am starting to realize more and more is that life’s meaning isn’t found in the grand things. It’s found in the every day things: in the look my mom and I shared when we realized we had found my wedding dress, in the quiet satisfaction of a clean kitchen, in the giddy anticipation of Bryan returning home from being away for a week.

I don’t know about you guys, but I am constantly inundated with messages about “live your dreams” and “never settle for less” and “live life to the very fullest” and those are all great things, but I think that we often get confused about what they mean. I know I do. Absolutely we should chase our dreams, but it would be very detrimental to do so at the expense of the other things that really matter in life: family, friends, love.

I always thought that living life to the fullest meant squeezing the juice out of every single moment. Sometimes, when we are having a quiet evening or weekend at home, I look at Bryan and say, “I feel like we should be doing something right now.” Like I am failing because I am not wandering the streets every evening trying to find some grand adventure that I haven’t experienced yet. Even though we try new things and go new places, we go to the mountains when we can and try new restaurants. Those are adventurous things! But living life to the fullest doesn’t mean constantly having to try new things and go new places. It simply means being fully engaged with every moment. It means being mindful and aware of everything that you are doing and experiencing, whether that is washing the dishes or stepping off a plane in a new country you’ve never visited. That’s it. It’s paying attention to how important every moment with the kids I work with is, and how precious every day with Bryan is.

My travel and living-adjacent-to-the-ocean-while-learning-to-surf dreams have not died. They are still important, and I will still strive for them, but they shouldn’t be causing me to be discontent with the beautiful life I already live. Life doesn’t have to be grand to be meaningful. We just have to look a little closer at our daily lives to see the meaning that we have been missing.

Meaningful, Not Big