Saturday, November 22, 2014

Dietary dogma and disrespect

I still haven't written the negative aspect of veganism post yet, but I felt inspired to write after going to a vegan event at the college I went to.

Around this time last year, I saw a flyer for a vegan thanksgiving event on campus, and being semi-vegetarian, I wanted to go. There was free food, a speaker, and a raffle. At the time, I was afraid to give up animal products because I thought that vegans are doomed to failure on an inadequate diet. This opinion changed when I saw that this was no small event, and that no one there looked like a deficient vegan. In fact, it was probably the healthiest looking group of people I've seen. By the end of the event, the speaker asked for the vegans to raise their hands so that non-vegetarians could seek them out to ask questions. My girlfriend and I both felt awkward not raising our hands, we likely knew just as much as everyone else there, but we failed as vegans.

This year, I went with my girlfriend who still isn't vegan, and a dedicated omnivore friend. This time the food was essentially an all you can eat buffet, and the food was incredible. If I would have known I would be writing about this event I would have taken pictures while I was there. Also, by the time the speaker was doing Q and A, I wish I had recorded it. The speaker was a pediatrician at the Cleveland Clinic. She admittedly was mostly vegan with an occasional slip, but the important thing was that she is a doctor in one of the most respected medical establishments in the country. She spoke of the importance of veganism in her life, and how veganism is starting to become more respected among doctors, especially as they face failing health as they become older. Compared to last years speaker, the speech seemed a little less vegan, and showcased more of the issues of veganism. Veganism is becoming more accepted, but it's still a difficult diet to make work in different settings, and the tendency for purity and dogma easily turns into disrespect.

The first question was about the decalcification of the pineal gland, something that is hardly scientific. The next was about artificially sweetened pop replacing sugar sweetened pop at the Cleveland Clinic. The next question raised hell. It actually wasn't a question, it was a criticism. The lady began by criticizing the speaker for her occasional slips eating eggs and dairy, and then moved on to say the speaker was wrong with her nutritional advice. B12 is supposedly not something vegans need to supplement, it can be obtained with nutritional yeast (fortified with b12) and seaweeds and algaes (analogue b12). Calcium is a non-issue for vegans because the lack of animal protein prevents calcium from being drawn from the bone (Dr. Gregor explains how this is simply not true on nutritionfacts.org). When it seemed like this lady was done, she took a breath and continued to criticize the speaker for wearing leather. By this time, I think the microphone was yanked from her hand, and the speaker was given a chance to address the criticisms.

Given being put on the spot, she did an excellent job responding to the criticism. She addressed the nutritional concerns as you would expect a doctor to, and moved on to the accusations about wearing leather and about not being truly vegan. She was in fact not wearing any leather, and as far as not being truly vegan, she owns up to it, but doesn't see an issue when she's fighting for the same team. Thankfully, it appeared the amount of applause she got for that meant that the majority of people there were not judgmental.

This is an issue of veganism that I haven't seen addressed enough. Veganism is an ethic, a way of life that is meant to inflict the least amount of harm. Many take it much further, and add an element of purity. Some won't even buy something if the label says it may contain trace amounts of dairy. I've recently been criticized for taking a sleep aid that contains gelatin, which was purchased before I went vegetarian. The closest I can come to explaining this without simply saying it's a cult-like influence is that some vegans are more like Kant, and can't see how a utilitarian perspective can be useful in this situation. If the goal is to inflict the least amount of suffering, then the goal should be to educate people about CAFO meat, and to get people to limit their intake of meat, not to criticize others for not being vegan enough. Being vegan is a personal choice to live according to ones morals. Being judgmental is forcing ones beliefs and values on others. Being an activist is opening the eyes of others to a problem. Live according to your morals, don't be judgmental, and educate others without letting your morals become emotions that blind you when dealing with others.

I saw the speaker leaving the event, and while a few people went up and said how they enjoyed her speech, I got the feeling that she left a little scarred by judgmental vegans. She did more to promote veganism and educate people about the cruelty of meat production in that one event than the judgmental vegans will ever do in their life, and yet she was the one criticized.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Ex-ex vegan story

I've written and rewritten this story, so hopefully this one will stick. There is so much I want to write about, so I'll have to spread it out over a few posts. I've had both positive and negative things happen since going vegan again, and while I feel the negative isn't talked about enough among vegans, I'll start with the positive. A balanced vegan diet that incorporates a b12 supplement is a diet that I believe can bring about optimal health. I accept that one doesn't need to give up meat for optimal health, and it may be more natural to obtain b12 from food sources rather than supplements, but I was never able to maintain balance as a non-vegetarian. I grew up eating mono-meals of whatever I can throw in the oven, foods such as pizza rolls, mini corn dogs, and popcorn chicken. The lack of balance in what I ate explains why I've been underweight most of my life. Going vegan is in line with my personal views, and was a choice that helped me gain balance with my diet and improve my health.

I have my ex-vegan story still saved, but I'm not sure if I'll post it again. Basically, I was vegan for a year, but I struggled to eat enough food, especially living in a dorm on a tight budget. a couple months before going back to meat, I donated blood, which I felt I never recovered from. I had no energy, and I was losing more and more weight. I went back to eating meat when I started having chest pains from what I assume to be weakened muscles (doesn't help that I've had collapsed lungs and two lung surgeries in the past). Like other ex-vegans, the paleo mindset made me skeptical of veganism, which made me blame veganism for my failing health. After I got past feeling like a monster for eating meat, I quickly embraced a meat heavy diet low in carbohydrate. To make a long story short, I lost even more weight and I started smoking. I thought it was bad enough being vegan, but it was worse eating low carb. I eventually gave up trying and started falling back into my old diet of processed mono-meals. Unless you are surrounded by health conscious people, it's hard getting out of the cycle of processed food, fast food, and greasy take out food. Needless to say, I never felt good during this time and frequently wondered why I was inflicting myself with food that made me feel miserable. I remembered how being vegan at least cured my IBS, so why couldn't I stop eating the foods that caused IBS?

Eventually, I decided out of nowhere that I wanted to start eating less meat and more vegetarian foods that I previously gave up because it doesn't fit in with paleo or low carb eating. I noticed a spark of energy as I ate a veggie burger instead of a beef burger, so I kept eating vegetarian foods in place of meat whenever I could. I continued eating this way even though I was worried the extra carbs would cause insulin resistance. All I knew was that I felt better, and I was able to give up smoking. I did however have terrible anxiety at this point, and become very much out of shape.

This continued until the end my second to last semester of college when I decided that I desperately need to get in shape. I was going up the stairs heading to class when I started getting palpitations bad enough that I needed to sit down at a lounge area to catch my breath. I decided to quit caffeine, go January without alcohol, go lacto-ovo vegetarian, and start exercising. I never had a real new years resolution before, but I was determined this time. I immediately went vegetarian, and gave up alcohol and caffeine. I made it through January without alcohol, but I only lasted a week without caffeine. I didn't notice any change until I started exercising halfway through January. I felt inspired to run ever since going in to class early in the morning, and seeing how many people where in the rec center on treadmills that early. Even though I was told it was unhealthy to run, I did it anyway. With the addition of exercise, I started turning around all the health problems I previously had. I started gaining muscle, which meant I was no longer underweight, my anxiety disappeared, and so did my palpitations. I started eating vegan most of the time, and started eating less processed food. I quickly noticed that eating vegan meant running would feel easier, so I stuck with it as much as I could. When January was over and I allowed myself alcohol again, I was surprised that it didn't affect me as negatively as it used to. Moderate alcohol and caffeine no longer made me horribly anxious, I was still energetic and generally in a good mood. I finally was more balanced.

Veganism wasn't without its negative side, but the negatives didn't start until I started listening to vegans on youtube promoting a restrictive form of veganism. I'll post about that next.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Time for a new blog!

Thinking out loud!

I haven't blogged much lately, even though I've had tons of ideas for blog posts. The problem is, the direction of what I want to write about shifted away from simply drinking tea, to more serious topics that I've since regained interest in. A couple years ago, I posted my ex-vegan story on this blog, but I wound up taking that post down because I didn't last long as an ex-vegan. I've always been passionate about health and nutrition, and that passion is only strengthened when it involves veganism. I was passionate about tea enough to write about it for a while, but I've become content just drinking tea and not writing about it.

This leaves me with a decision to make. Since I've already started taking this blog in different directions, I can keep writing on this blog and have an unusual title, or I can start a new blog entirely. I might start writing a few blog posts here, and then reepost them to a new blog once I come up with a name for it.

So, future topics will include veganism from the perspective of an ex-ex-vegan, diet and lifestyle and how they affect physical and mental health (I have a degree in psychology, so I can't leave out mental). I focus a lot on the health aspect of things, but I don't ignore the ethical side of how we eat. Whether it involves the animals, the ecology of the planet, or how it impacts food security. This is a journey for me as well, so I'll have personal posts thrown in as well, and maybe even posts involving tea (yay!).

First post will be my ex-ex-vegan story, which will probably include re-posting my ex-vegan story. I don't want to re-post it because it makes me cringe reading it, but I'll post it anyway.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Drunk post

Maybe it would be better to consider this a minimalist post.

I've always wondered how people can work so hard. In grade school, I wondered how people in high school were able to finish all the homework they were assigned. In high school, I wondered how college students can stay up all night cramming for an exam. Now that I'm a week away from finishing my college career, I still don't understand any of this. I never stayed up late to cram for an exam. I never sacrificed my own health for a class with the exception of panic attacks I've experienced finishing stressful classes. Now that I'm at the end of it, I'll get to experience the high paying job and all the material possessions that accompany it.Yeah right.

For how little effort I put in, I have an honors medal which I get to wear during the commencement. Somehow, I can't separate this from the car my parents just recently leased. Everyone gets excited over these things, but I don't see how pieces of metal have any value.

The tone of this post is a little pessimistic, but today was a good day. I went for a run along the canal towpath, and I went further down than normal. When I saw the route 82 bridge, I felt a sense of accomplishment because I've only gotten that far on a bike before. Turning around and running back to the car was quite enjoyable.

I don't think my degree is worthless, in fact I feel like I'm walking away from college with knowledge I never would have accumulated without. The problem I have is how college became intertwined in the materialistic world. "Go to college to get a good paying job." I'm not even going to go into the problems of getting a good paying job and the problems of student debt, my concern is why should the good paying job be the end result?

The lack of money brings unhappiness, but excess money doesn't bring happiness. If your basic needs are met, happiness is found in what's free. In the case of a house fire, who hasn't heard someone say that the material possessions don't matter, all that matters is that everyone got out safe? It just takes a crisis for people to understand that.

Alongside social relationships, I would argue that the same things that lead to successful aging also what contributes to happiness. Stuff doesn't figure into this, but staying active physically and mentally does. Today's experience contributed to my belief in this. I find the canal to be a very fascinating place to run. There are pieces left that leave some insight into how it was used about a century ago. after a couple miles, the canal splits from the road, and veers off into a very woodsy direction. Seeing all these changes in a run is what has given me motivation to run lately. I decided to go a little further this time, so I spotted an unusual tree in the distance to be the marker to turn around. After arriving at the tree, I then saw the 82 bridge up ahead and continued a little further. Had it not started raining I would have continued and turned around at the 82 bridge and spent a couple miles walking at the end rather than running all the way back to the car.

This is an experience I wish anyone could experience. I chose to run, maybe most would prefer to walk, but the experience would be the same. The endless novelty of what's around us is amazing.

Go for a walk, or run if you feel inclined to do so. You might realize how a high paying job that sucks the life out of you is more of a curse than a convenient blessing. Meet your basic needs, and put on a good pair of shoes and explore what the world has to offer.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Building a relationship with tea

This post might come across as a bit obsessive to focus on tea in such a way, but I feel it's a life lesson that can be generalized to every other aspect of life. If you are like me and struggle with knowing who you are as a person, tea is a great way to practice getting to know yourself.

This blog is a reminder to me that I used to drink a lot of tea. I had a large filing cabinet in my closet to store my huge tea collection. When I met my girlfriend, the tea cabinet was no longer big enough to fit all our teas. As time went on, I felt more burdened by having so many samples, and a closet that is limited in how much clothes I can fit in it. By finishing up, throwing away stale tea, or giving away tea, I knocked my collection done to a drawer full, and I got rid of the tea cabinet. Around this time, I also lost interest in tea, and focused on yerba mate. I feel like I learned more drinking the same yerba day after day compared to all the teas I tried and posted about on this blog.

Looking back, I'm not sure if I gained anything from this blog. I never blogged with the intention of getting people to read my posts, I just wanted a reference for myself, and a tool to learn more about tea through writing. I posted about oolongs and puerh because they are more interesting to write about, and exploring the world of these teas was exciting. What I've come to learn is that new and exciting doesn't lead to contentment and happiness. New and exciting is only enjoyable because it's novel, but novelty doesn't last. Developing an interest in tea as a hobby can be like starting a romantic relationship. It's exciting at first, but then you get used to it and it becomes less exciting. You could try looking for new teas to try, new teapots, but the novelty will always wear off. Instead of casual encounters, try focusing on a few teas you really enjoy, and build a relationship with those.

I'm not sure if I really enjoyed the teas I posted on this blog. I'm not sure if I enjoy oolong or puerh all that much, but they were exciting to get into. It was exciting enough that it pulled my focus away from the greens I was previously drinking. Obviously, the novelty couldn't last, and I lost interest in tea. I just naturally drifted towards yerba, and I didn't even consider the fact that I was drinking the same yerba over and over again. Or at least until I went on Teachat and was asked how much variety is available with yerba. There is some variety, just no where near as much as there is with tea. This didn't bother me as I found trying different yerbas to be a bit overwhelming anyway, so I stuck to my usual Rosamonte.

There's something about the comfort of familiarity that is more enjoyable than the excitement of something new. Our brains are hardwired to find novelty exciting, but novelty is hard to maintain. I can only speak for myself, but I feel like the constant search for novelty makes happiness harder and harder to attain. It's just like a drug addict that needs more and more of the drug to be satisfied, but ultimately never is. The drug addict will live a life of always wanting, but won't ever get what they want until they give it all up. Tea on the other hand is a simple beverage, and a very enjoyable one. Why did it ever become more than that?

Talking to my girlfriend today brought us back to an old idea. She is interested in herbal teas, but doesn't like to blend them. You need to get to know the herb individually, and the only way to do that is to build a relationship with that herb. In order to benefit from that herb, you need to have a one on one. Blending it with other herbs is like getting to know a person in a group setting. You will only get to know the person as they are in a group. Tea is unique in that it physically becomes a part of you. It interacts with your physiology, which can affect the physical and mental. Completely ignoring the hype that tea is incredibly healthy, tea is healthy in the sense that an intimate relationship is healthy. Tea is widely regarded as comforting and calming, but I think that's only because of the small amount of caffeine and because it's familiar. It tastes good, makes you feel good, and you can probably remember the last time you were comforted by it. It makes you think of the cold days in winter when you found a cup of tea to be just what you needed to warm yourself up.

Even though I never thought of this, I feel this is why I was drawn toward yerba. After drinking tea in many complex ways, yerba was simple and that's all I wanted. I just wanted something familiar I could rely on. Now that I'm getting away from yerba, I feel like I'm rebuilding my relationship with tea. Since I didn't have any tea in my collection, I had to decide what tea to buy. The me in the past would have been bored by my choice: I bought Silver Needle. When I tried it, I immediately wondered why I thought so little of white tea. I then ordered some Rishi Jade Cloud and Golden Yunnan, bought a green from teavana, and just recently picked up Rishi Wuyi. So now I have a black, a couple greens and whites, and an oolong. I don't know which I'll buy again, and which I'll lose interest in. I also don't know if I'll ever get back into gongfu. I'm brewing the Wuyi gongfu at the moment as a comparison, but I've been really impressed with "grandpa style" in a simple glass lately.

For many that get into tea as a new hobby, they might get carried away with the suggestions of others. What was once simple became complex. I'd suggest to anyone on a similar journey to stop focusing on trying variety for the sake of variety, and to focus on building a relationship with tea. As you try new teas ask yourself how you feel after drinking a tea. Do you feel good because it tasted good, filled a need for ritual, reminded you of something, or was it just a new sensation? More importantly, did you feel like your opinion was already shaped by someone else's opinion? If it was, you might be trying to be a tea snob. Tea is too simple of a beverage to feel the need to conform to others about.

And now, welcome to the rest of my blog! I think I will make this a recurring theme in any future posts.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Less is more - a week without caffeine

(Scatter brain post. Proceed with caution.)

Wait, you can quit tea? Why would anyone foolishly do that?

Well, I wasn't just quitting tea, I was quitting yerba mate. For the last few years I drank yerba instead of tea. Within the last year, The gourd size I used just got bigger and bigger. I eventually reached a point where the side effects of caffeine were too much. I would get wired in the morning, then anxious and depressed later in the day. I often found it difficult getting to sleep and I noticed that my sleep was very shallow. The part that scared me was that it seemed to cause involuntary muscle spasms, a racing heart beat, and occasionally an intolerance to the slightest exercise. Walking to class sometimes made my heart race, and I would have to sit down to let it pass. I'm young, at a healthy weight, and have been active most of my life, so this was very alarming. Once I connected this to caffeine, I tried to get more into tea to get away from the more heavily caffeinated yerba. I started by switching to smaller and smaller gourds, then ditching the gourd entirely to brew it like green tea. Before I actually switched to tea I decided to quit caffeine entirely after reading a number of posts online about the benefits of quitting. Also, my girlfriend quit caffeine a couple weeks before, so it inspired me to quit as well.

I had withdrawal for maybe a day, but it was just a little fatigue. No headache, no irritability, just more tired than usual and maybe a slightly depressed mood. By the second day, I felt normal. I even felt a slight rush of energy as I went over a friends house, and went grocery shopping. This was the case for the rest of the week. The only downside was for the first few days, skipping the morning ritual of yerba took a little willpower. By day 4 or 5, classes started up again which I thought would be a real test. I went from sleeping in 'till 9am over break straight to getting up at 5am and having long days all without caffeine.

This is were I started to wonder about my caffeine addiction. Compared to what I read about the horrors of caffeine withdrawal, I felt like I might not have been significantly addicted to caffeine. I woke up at 5am and got through the day just fine. By the end of the week, I started to wonder why no one commenting on blog posts I read about quitting caffeine said they quit tea. I thought maybe it's just a problem coffee drinkers face and decided to try tea again. I just decided I didn't want to get back to drinking yerba, for reasons I will cover in another blog post.

What I learned from this little experiment was that I don't need caffeine, but I choose to drink tea because I enjoy it. I noticed benefits of quitting caffeine even within the week without, which helped me get over the delusion that I need it. It also emphasized the need for moderation. I felt better without caffeine than I did when I was getting wired on yerba. My mood and energy levels were a lot more stable throughout the day, and much of my anxiety dissipated. The spasms and heart palpitations also slowly started getting better. I even did a short burst of running to the bus stop before class like I normally do, only this time I felt much less strained and I got further before becoming tired. My sleep improved modestly, though I think it would be a longer process before my sleep truly improves.

So far I attribute many of the negative effects of caffeine use I experienced to yerba and to excessive caffeine consumption in general. So far I feel fine with a few cups of tea a day. I'll post soon about my concerns about yerba clarifying why I'm avoiding it.