addiction

Why I’ve Stopped Eating Animal Foods

This is dreadful! Not only the suffering and death of the animals, but that man suppresses in himself, unnecessarily, the highest spiritual capacity – that of sympathy and pity towards living creatures like himself – and by violating his own feelings becomes cruel. – Leo Tolstoy

“It’s inevitable,” my boyfriend said to me late last year, on the prospect of us becoming vegan. We’d recently gotten deep into the Rich Roll Podcast, and the evidence for a plant-based diet was mounting. “Yeah,” I sighed, already mourning the loss of cheeseburgers and gooey chocolate chip cookies. “You’re probably right.”

He was right. He was so right. After six months of edging towards it, I’ve now been a strict vegan for exactly one month, and I’m never looking back.

Well, that’s not true. I’m looking back right now, on my blog, because it’s actually really important for me to understand why I’m making this bold, life-changing choice. Just as it took lots of processing for me to come to the decision to give up alcohol. And sugar. And crazy obsessive exercise. You see, it’s all interconnected. Profoundly interconnected.

This isn’t my first foray into the land of almond milk and agave. My earliest attempt at vegetarianism came in grade school, around the age of 8 or 9. The epiphany that meat was the same thing as the cuddly animals I loved so much, only murdered, came from my best friend in the whole world, Michala Heyford. I was so shocked by this sudden realization that I came home and proclaimed that I wanted to be a vegetarian.

“Well, then, you’ll have to cook your own meals,” my mom replied. And that was the end of that. No more questioning the cuddly animals come edible flesh. I was destined to be an omnivore. (Not that I blame my mom in the slightest – my conviction was obviously weak, and she was only operating within the same paradigm as most of our planet since the dawn of animal agriculture.)

After that five hour stint, I remained an avid animal eater until November of 2012, when I watched Forks Over Knives. I honestly barely remember the film now, because I was deep in my alcohol addiction and body obsession, but it jarred me enough that I went vegan for a month, and vegetarian for a year.

During that time, I remember my conscious feeling way better. It seemed pretty straightforward to me – factory farming was evil, I wanted no part in it, so the easiest way was to stop eating meat. I still didn’t quite understand the cruelty of dairy and eggs, so I reintroduced those, eating only “organic,” but otherwise I felt solid about my decision.

So why did I start consuming meat again with reckless abandon? Because my hair was falling out. And I felt fatigued. And I was self-consumed. But instead of re-evaluating my diet, which was completely out of whack thanks to my eating disorder and alcohol consumption, I just assumed it was because I wasn’t getting animal protein. WRONG. (This is one of the major fallacies about nutrition that helps maintain the status quo. Look up Scott Jurek, Rich Roll, Tony Gonzalez, or any of the other incredible vegan athletes if you don’t believe me.)

Anyway, fast forward to last summer, when my body felt so broken I thought I must be suffering from a chronic disease. Every day I felt so tired and so foggy and so sick that I thought I must be dying.

And you know something? I was right. I did have a chronic disease. A few, actually: alcoholism, food and sugar addiction, and exercise bulimia. And I was dying. Slowly, maybe, but make no mistake I was killing my body and my spirit. At my physical last September my cholesterol was through the roof and I was on the borderline of pre-diabetes. At 29!

By my 30th birthday, I was starting to think a little more clearly, having given up alcohol, but I still fumbled my way through the dark. It wasn’t until I finally completely quit sugar and admitted my exercise addiction that the curtain began to lift. And boy, has it been hard to see the truth.

But there it is, plain as day: for 30 years, I have been complicit in humanity’s darkest, cruelest, most ruthless practice – animal agriculture. As harsh as that sounds, it is the capital T Truth. And the consequences of this culturally sanctioned violence prove it — it’s destroying our planet and ourselves.

What started as a choice made out of concern for my personal health quickly morphed into something much greater. The more I read and watched, the more my mind exploded. One pound of beef requires thousands of gallons of water?? 80% of deforestation in the Amazon is because of CATTLE GRAZING?? Animal products cause cardiovascular disease and cancer?? (Okay, I knew that last one.) The idea that I’d given up dairy in November for my skin, congestion, and digestion now seemed positively quaint.

With each new source I consumed, I grew deeper and deeper in my conviction on becoming vegan.  Eating Animals showed me there was no such think as humane slaughter or family-run farms in this country. I used to order Niman Ranch menu items with a little less guilt, but how could I now that I knew that Bill Niman won’t eat meat from there?

Cowspiracy taught me the extent to which the media, government, and even environmental companies will go to protect animal agribusiness, even though it’s the leading cause of global warming, ocean dead zones, species extinction, water shortages, you name it!!

 

And then there was The World Peace Diet. Recommended to me by one of the gentlest souls I know, I took to this book like a fish takes to water (where it should always be!) With each chapter, the dots started to connect for me in a way that they never have before. EVER. I mean, the Sanskrit word for war translates to desire for cattle. FOR CATTLE. #mindblown

I spent full days reading The World Peace Diet because I kept getting lost in rabbit holes as I looked things up to do further research, stumbling across gems like this treaty from Plutarch. If ever you’ve questioned why there’s so much suffering in this world, from war, to slavery, to rape, to poverty (both economic and spiritual), look no further than this incredible book.

It’s the Golden Rule, folks, simple as that. Do unto others as you would have done unto you. What clearer example of “reaping what you sow” can we have then animal agriculture? We enslave and kill animals, and thus we enslave and kill ourselves. It’s not rocket science what needs to be done. I’m no Bible Truther, but if only we could all take this passage from Genesis 1.29 literally: Then God said,”Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you.” (Yes, the Garden of Eden was vegan.)

So how to make sense of this wealth of information when you’ve been participating in it your whole life? Well, I can tell you, it ain’t easy. Paradigm shifts rarely are. I’ve broken down in sobs dozens of times in the past few months, over the devastation that I’ve happily, mindlessly been a part of. Last night as I listened to birds and watched bats flit through the palm trees, I cried as I said a prayer for all of the animals I’d been an assassin to.

This has without a doubt been the most painful awakening I’ve ever gone through. I look around me and now I can’t help but see it everywhere – the misery in the grocery stores, at restaurants, on the plates of my loved ones, on my feet. Sometimes I just want to scream at the insanity of it all, at the wretchedness at the blackened core of our herding tradition, but then I think of Gandhi and my heart softens. After all, that is what is at the core of veganism. Compassion. For all sentient beings.

And that is ultimately what carries me through. What helps me knock down the walls that have been erected around my soul. What mends the gulf that’s been created by my inherently violent food choices, between who I am and who I want to be. What allows there to be mercy for myself and others, for we know not what we do. But now that I finally do know, there’s nowhere to run and no turning back.

The mission is clear. It’s time for me to take a stand. To practice loving-kindness, with my thoughts, with my words, with my actions. Every day, every meal.

Oh, and I almost forgot! While it pales in comparison to the softening of my heart and the spiritual connectedness I’m now experiencing with the Earth, it’s still worth mentioning: I’ve never felt more at peace with my body. Finally free from the toxic trifecta of alcohol, sugar, and animal foods, I am energized, clear-headed, and healthy. Who woulda thunk?

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A Million Digital Pieces: A Cell Phone Addict Speaks Out

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I recently came across a tweet from the Huffington Post that caught my attention: “Distracted Driving is Rampant across America.” I clicked on it because I am – sigh gasp blush – a part of this rampant craze sweeping the country. I’ll even go so far as to admit that I can’t even remember the last time I got behind the wheel without my iPhone within texting distance (e.g. in my hand). But that’s not even the worst of it. Because I am currently suffering from an even more all-encompassing condition: Distracted Living.

I’ve had an unhealthy attachment to my phone for many years now. Pretty much since I got my very first Samsung my junior year of high school in 2003. Back in those dinosaur ages, my phone was considered awesome because it was in color and I could download specialty ringtones. (Pretty groovy, huh?) It didn’t even have e-mail, let alone Facebook or Instagram. Just good ol’ fashioned phone calls and text messages. But even that was enough to get me hooked.

A decade later, I need my phone the way Snoop Dogg needs marijuana. Or A-Rod needs steroids. Or Grandma Myrtle needs her slot machines. And I don’t just mean that figuratively. Because according to David Greenfield, the founder of The Center for Internet and Technology Addiction,* cell phones actually create similar responses in the brain to drugs and gambling. Just thinking about receiving messages can raise dopamine levels, and actually hearing that “ping” or seeing that banner notification releases even more. That’s why most of us find it so difficult to put our phone in the trunk when we’re driving, even though we know we should. Heck, just typing that made my eye twitch.

While the dangers of Distracted Driving are pretty frickin’ obvious and difficult to argue – YOU COULD CRASH AND KILL PEOPLE – the ramifications of Distracted Living are somewhat less pronounced. But much more insidious. Let’s take a look at some examples:

  1. Distracted Living is bad for your love life.

Ever go on a date and both of your cell phones are on the table? Or maybe you’re able to keep it in your purse, but some time around the middle of eating your filet mignon you absolutely must excuse yourself to the bathroom to check your Twitter feed in a stall? This has happened to me. A lot. And it keeps me from having a fully connected experience with my romantic interest. Perhaps one of the reasons I’m still single. Fail. (And don’t even get me started on phones and sexy time. I’ve definitely been making out with a guy and the second I hear my hear that buzzing all I can think is What if it’s my agent?! Mood. Killer.

  1. Distracted Living interrupts your sleep cycle.

I only recently began switching my phone to silent mode instead of vibrate when I turn off the light at night, but even this doesn’t prevent my cell phone from screwing up my REMs. My brain is so desperate for Instagram likes that I now find myself waking up every few hours like an infant in need of breast milk. Last night I reached for my phone not once, not twice, but three times. As if the activity on Snapchat at 3am is more important than my dream of marrying Josh Hartnett. NOPE!

  1. Distracted Living causes you to miss important moments.

The other day while one of the women in our short film was dancing, I was so busy looking for my phone to try and take a picture of it that I missed the moment entirely. Oh, the irony. And although it wasn’t the end of the world, (I watched the second take), imagine if this happened while my future daughter was taking her first steps. Or my grandmother was taking her last breath.** Even just missing little things like plot points in a movie because I’m checking a Facebook comment are unfortunate, and can make for a confusing / less meaningful evening.

  1. Distracted Living hinders you in your purpose.

Whether your purpose is to fight Ebola or raise a family or write a super cool blog of random essays, texting/Twitter/Facebook/Instagram/Vine/Gmail/Whatsapp/Snapchat/Any Other Social Media Platform will not help you with this. Sure, it can help spread awareness, but it will not actually lead you to a cure, or feed your children, or put words on the page (except in this case, since I’m writing about it. Oh man, too meta.) If you want to actually accomplish something beyond retweets and likes, it’s important to maintain focus and stay dialed out. I’m gonna go out on a limb and bet that Yo-Yo Ma doesn’t take breaks from his cello every five minutes to check his Galaxy S5.

Okay, so this all sounds pretty horrible, right? Well, it is. Take it from someone who just checked her phone no less than 15 times while writing this essay. It’s taking everything in me not to look at it right now. ARGGGGG.

But here’s the thing. And this is important. As debilitating as Distracted Living can become, it’s never too late to overcome it. If Robert Downey Jr. can go from drug addict to Iron Man, I can certainly go from iPhone abuser to person living in the present. In fact, I already do it naturally every time I go overseas.*** But I don’t want to have to cross an ocean every time I wish to experience Focused Living. Which is why I’m going to break my addiction.

From today onward, I’m committing myself to small steps to rewire my social media riddled brain. Starting with that most serious of offenses: Distracted Driving. My phone is going in my purse which I’m zipping up and putting in my backseat. It’s not like I don’t still have Bluetooth for all those “emergencies.” I’m also going to leave it behind when I’m working out. I don’t need an update from CNN touting the benefits of exercise while I’m in the middle of exercising. (Plus, the sweat makes it difficult to use the touchscreen.) And instead of having my phone next to me while I’m writing or working on sides for an audition, I’m turning it off and practicing Attentive Creating. That way I won’t-

Oh shoot, my mom’s calling. TTYL!

*I wonder if they offer outpatient services… I should probably go look it up on the Internet and then make a phone call.

**Capturing this would be super creepy. But you know what I mean.

***Something about the new surroundings. And the time off work. And the cost of an international data plan.