This human reality will never please me, and that’s OK. I find joy in my own way.
When I’m at work scrubbing pots and see a cricket jump in the corner of the floor drain, trying to find sanctuary, I immediately pause my work. I squat down and extend my finger, an olive branch. I do this with spiders, moths, beetles and whatever other tiny being appears to be in distress when I’m cleaning.
Sometimes I think about how they perceive a human finger. Do they know it is attached to a human? Do they know what a human is? Do they know they are inside a building with fluorescent lights? Have they ever seen the sun? Are they terrified? How do they perceive the rushing water and wind from the high pressure hose? Do they want to be in another place? Do they want to be extracted from this situation? As a level six ethical vegan, I follow the philosophy of non-interference in the affairs of non-human animals and all other sentient beings, unless there is immediate suffering that I can prevent without shifting the balance of nature and affecting the timelines. In this case, I believe there is cause for intervention.
So I extend my index finger and the gray moth lying belly up on the floor suddenly comes to life. Her tiny legs cling to me. I smile and suddenly forget about how much I hate my boss. There are more important things in life. I stand up and pull my fingers into a loose fist, with the moth sitting on top of my knuckle. She opens her wings to shake off the water. I whisper to the moth and assure her that she is going to be OK. I walk around the drying racks and pull the rolling garage door over my head with my other hand. Cold, dry air and natural light fill the soil room. I breathe in the desert morning then place the moth on some sagebrush and feel a simple joy from reducing the suffering of one little, tiny being.
In a world of wanton cruelty, I see this as an act of rebellion. And I’m a soul rebel.
I feel a similar sense of joy when I go for a walk at the nature preserve and see a glimpse into the simple, private lives of chipmunks and geese.
Watching a chipmunk wag his bushy little tail and play with a piece of long grass that glows gold in the morning light gives me so much pleasure. What worries the chipmunk? Does he think constantly of imminent attacks from hawks? Or does he play carefree with his friends and jump between boulders during the warm daylight hours, then retreat to his hole at night to cuddle with his family during the freezing nights? Does he think about the exploitation of labor? Does he think about how much he has to save up to buy a house?
I always hear the geese before seeing them. Their honking carries across the rocky terrain. The flying “V” is broken into two distinct pieces, with the leading group working in perfect coordination to reduce wind resistance for those behind. I always feel like waving my hat in the air or saluting these magnificent animals, like they are a highly decorated air force squadron returning victorious from war, but instead I just watch and listen. They fly over my head and I hear the delicate squeak they make when breathing during vigorous flight. I’ve never noticed that before.
As they fly into the distance, the flock becomes fluid. The geese are no longer individuals, just black dots against a clear blue sky. The dots dance and their shape morphs constantly. The flying “V” ebbs and flows like the tide.
I thank the animals for showing me the simple joy of living.
I didn’t go to the potluck because I’m tired of the vegetarians and their cognitive dissonance.
It’s absolute bullshit. John is the worst and he started the group. He doesn’t even seem to contemplate what it means to be vegan and how vegetarians like him still pay people to kill animals for them. I don’t really care for his company.
I also didn’t go because I was laid off from my shitty wage slave job at the Holiday Inn Express.
A week or two before I was laid off I had several meetings with the general manager and assistant general manager and told them how upset and angry I was that so many of the housekeepers, mostly Navajo women, come in an hour early and work off the clock to get their carts ready and get all of their linen for the day. I told them that they feel pressured to work without clocking in because the hotel is run so poorly, there isn’t enough inventory, the storage rooms are rarely stocked properly, there’s one head housekeeper in charge of scheduling, ordering products, managing staff, keeping the housekeepers in line and managing the laundry staff. And the head housekeeper doesn’t even get paid benefits. It’s absolute bullshit. I told the GM that all of these issues are directly related to the absentee owners in Moab. Michael Henry Bynum, with the help of his son, Zachary Daniel Bynum, has been exploiting Native American women at his hotels for 40 years in Moab and for 5 years now in Cortez.
Dawn… I just don’t understand how they are still getting away with this.
How can a world this cruel be allowed to exist?
The rich and powerful white men — whose faces change over the generations but never change — have so carefully honed and perfected this world to create a permanent upper class and a permanent lower class to exploit for their benefit. I see it in three phases, all intended to control the population. First, it was genocide. Get rid of the existing population. Next, bring in some slaves. We need people to work our fields for free. Now, it’s all about capitalism. Keep the slaves in the field but just change the laws slightly to let us pay them minimum wage and keep them on seven-hour shifts instead of eight so we don’t have to pay benefits.
How are they still getting away with it?
Why is it that when I try to tell the Navajo women to stop working off the clock all they see if an angry white man, an authority figure, who is accosting them for some reason but they have no education (part of the plan) or understanding of the world so they can’t even comprehend that they are being exploited and abused and manipulated and why I am so bothered by that exploitation? This isn’t how it has to be but I don’t know how to communicate that. I’m not from this world. I have no one to talk about these issues with in this town. If I mention capitalism I’m a fucking alien. So I further isolate myself.
This is all part of their plan and at this point I don’t feel like there’s anything I can do about it. I thought being a journalist would empower me to change the world because presenting the facts would surely change peoples’ minds. No. That’s very naive. I have no power. My writing is meaningless. For everyone decent journalism story there is an equal and opposite article from a capitalist propaganda outlet to counter reality. The world is evil, white men are evil and there’s absolutely nothing I can do about any of it. They are insatiable. I’ve talked to two union leaders and Denver and they said there’s absolutely no way any union is touching Cortez.
I’m unemployed now and have enough money to get me through the end of the year I think. I have my marijuana employee badge so I handed out my resume to the dispensaries but literally no one is hiring in this town for the winter.
I’m just one of the hundreds of souls in Cortez suddenly thrown to the wayside once the nice, rich, white families stop visiting Mesa Verde National Park. They all wear the same dumb clothes and white Reebok’s and Tommy Bahama shirts and when they go home they tell everyone they saw real Navajos (!) and I overhear them asking the front desk attendant what tribe they are from as they relish in their newfound multiculturalism. But it’s all a fucking game. The Navajo they see in the hotel are just being exploited by a rich white asshole developer in Moab who hasn’t actually generated any of his own wealth himself. No, his father owned a restaurant in Moab and then lil Mike was the star quarterback of the HS football team and got a scholarship to CU Boulder, where he studied law and then opened up a development/real estate law firm in Boulder with his good friend who went on to donate $10 million to the law school to employ in perpetuity “two senior faculty positions to be held by national-caliber scholars with a deep appreciation for and commitment to capitalism and free enterprise.” (Bynum and Chrisman also used their own law firm to work out all of their own development ventures, and the law firm’s name is on the bottom all of their Colorado business forms from that time. Great way to keep everything in house.)
Everyone praises the rich white men. He makes charitable donations! He creates jobs! He sits on corporate boards! Well, hold on now. He creates shitty minimum wage jobs because he’s incredibly selfish. He makes charitable donations because he is woefully under taxed. He makes charitable donations to ensure his money will not help the general welfare and the people he exploits, rather he wants his money to benefit people like him. Now because of his generous donation, young white men from privileged backgrounds can attend CU Boulder and learn all of the tricks to keeping as much money in his and his family’s pocket and far from the people who actually generated the wealth, working in the hotels, in the restaurants, with sore backs, endless cuts and scrapes on their fingers, getting sick from the women who had a cold in room 110, missing out on a day’s pay to take care of their child because any sort of sick time or vacation pay or healthcare is reserved for the people who actually matter! That is, the people who sit behind a desk all day and play with spreadsheets.
And the vegan thing. The GM called a staff meeting after I told him how I feel and they bought pizza. As I walked in, one of my laundry coworkers said she told the boss I’m vegan and they got a special pizza for me. My vegan anxiety began to swell. I’ve had plenty of experiences being vegan among coworkers and I always keep my expectations low. When the pizzas arrived I was not at all surprised to find a special small pizza just for me. I opened it up and found cheese all over it. So the head housekeeper took it back, which was very kind but totally unnecessary, and then she came back 20 minutes later and plopped a small pizza in front of me with no cheese. Then one of the housekeepers made a comment about how special and pampered I am. So I’m the weird one. I’M THE WEIRD ONE? I literally just don’t want to kill animals for no reason as well as destroy the planet and their own health. But I’m fucking weird.
It’s all bullshit Kathleen and I’ve decided that I’d rather just renounce the world. I’ve actually been thinking that it might be best to encourage the acceleration of global climate change to hasten our inexorable end. My fantasy is the world that will return after humans have killed themselves off. A balance will return to the Earth once we’re gone. That’s the only thing I look forward to these days.
I was wearing a white collared shirt and a blue tie.
I find myself sitting in an auditorium at an awards ceremony for creative academics. All of the smart people in the crowd want to do big things in this world. They play a video of a hovering metal drone with eight compartments that releases blue balloons into the air that are filled with an element that reverses climate change in places like India and China that are full of smog and smoke and pollution.
I left the auditorium and I wandered around the city feeling depressed.
I walk down the street and stop at an Asian stir fry takeaway shop with a keno style video lottery screen and something compels me to put down some numbers.
1, 3, 6, 9, 46.
The screen keeps flashing 1, 3, 6, 9 and I knew I won big.
The payout was up to $1,000 then it kept going to $10,000 then to $100,000 then it stopped at $76 zillion.
I wandered around the dark city at night. I looked around and everywhere I looked were skyscrapers. The air is thick. Dark and ashy. Smoke and pollution from the underground vents blackened the already dank buildings. The streets are empty. I sit there looking all around me, knowing I just won an incredible amount of money and all of the sudden a behemoth of a construction vehicle drives between the two buildings before me.
The ground shakes.
It is like a big tractor trailer but way too big. It fades from my view and then another drives by, even bigger. More massive and the ground shakes again. The Earth trembles. It is not natural. Another truck. This was the biggest I have ever seen and it is hauling a truck that appears to be the same size as the first truck. It must be seven stories tall. There are big rubber tires and then there are little wheels coming down on stilts for extra support. It is like The Butter BattleBook by Dr. Seus. It is going slow and it is as big as the entire road and I don’t know how it can make turns.
Then there are different kinds of machines that don’t have wheels, they walk like lizards.
Mechanical lizards with armored feet.
They can climb up the sides of buildings. I follow them to the construction yard. I float around on a grappling hook and no one can see me. And I observe everything. Workers. They look different, detached from me. Different from me. Sad. I float up past the scaffolding on my grappling hook going up and looking down at the construction and I can hear them. I hear pieces of conversations and they are all the same. They are talking about what they want to do with their lives if they weren’t in construction.
“After this job I’m going to…”
They talk like they have dreams. They talk like they are stuck here. In this life. They talk like they have no control.
I find myself back at the Asian stir fry takeaway shop where I won the keno outside on the street. I stand in line and order the tofu or the miso soup. She takes out a bag and it says it is tofu but it is filled with prawns and insects and maggots. She says the miso soup has meat in it. She says all of the food has animals in it.
I walk along the street after seeing this pollution and broken dreams and all of the food is animals and I won all this money and I’m walking along with my shirt and tie after going to the award ceremony with all the smart people with big plans and here I am with 76 zillion dollars and I can do anything and help anyone and while I’m thinking this I’m walking and I start to float up into the air while the city sits in darkness as a slight gradient of sunrise starts to shine above the skyscrapers and I just float up in the air and my blue tie is flowing in the wind and I just float up with my eyes closed and that’s how it ends.
Then I wake up and look through the window of my van to see the sun rising over the Southern Alps of New Zealand.
I never thought a documentary could convince me to change my lifestyle.
One week ago, I attended a lecture about the unsustainability of climate change and then watched Cowspiracy on Netflix.
In one night I learned that the global temperature is expected to rise by two degrees Celsius from 1995 to 2100 and the No. 1 contributor to climate change is agriculture and livestock and the easiest, most cost effective, healthiest, health-care saving way to save the world and prevent cardiovascular disease is to just eat plants.
For the first time in my life I am free of meat, dairy and eggs and it was the easiest thing I’ve ever done.
Why did I switch to a vegan diet?
Just like Cowspiracy producer Kip Andersen, I always thought the main contributor to climate change was fossil fuels. Not even close.
Do you take shorter showers and switch the tap off when you brush your teeth? Thanks, but that burger you’re eating used 660 gallons of water. Private homes account for 5% of water consumption in the US. Meanwhile, 55% is used for animal agriculture.
Raising livestock takes up a crazy amount of land. The current livestock system occupies 45% of global surface area. To do this, we have to cut down trees. Animal agriculture is responsible for 91% of Amazon deforestation. We are destroying the Earth’s lungs in order to eat meat and drink milk.
Our current addiction to meat and dairy is not sustainable. The UN projects the global population will reach 9.6 billion by 2050. We don’t have enough room for all of those people to eat meat and dairy.
A vegan needs just 1/6th acre to produce enough food for a year. A meat eater needs 18 times as much land, for a more expensive and unhealthy diet.
I made this change for the environment. Veganism means living in the future. In a future with more people, higher global temperatures, more global inequality and more greenhouse gasses, veganism is the easiest and most sustainable option.
Well, shit, why didn’t anyone tell me this sooner?
Cowspiracy shows how nearly every environmental non-profit is eerily silent on the effects of animal agriculture.
Here’s a taste:
The dairy lobby, the meat lobby, and the incredibly powerful prescription drug lobby want us to keep eating animal products and, in turn, destroy the Earth and kill ourselves. They don’t want these environmental charities to be spouting off the truth about the cause of climate change. They want to make money.
The money, he says, is in people with chronic conditions who eat fast food and take prescription drugs everyday of their lives. If everyone ate plants, everyone would be healthy. That’s not good for business.
You don’t know what you’re talking about! You’ve never worked on a farm!
Over July and August of this year, I worked on a 230-cow dairy farm just down the road from the Hobbiton movie set in the heart of Waikato, New Zealand.
On my first day on the farm I had to hose down the massive amount of shit and piss the cows left in the shed. I was shocked by how much water I had to use. It takes about 5-10 minutes running a high-powered hose to clean the shed after milking. Every other day we had to hose down the entire yard, which took at least 15 minutes. I was told to not worry about it.
This is the standard practice done on every farm, after every milking, twice a day. It takes 1,000 gallons of water to produce one gallon of milk. Is it worth it?
During calving, the newborn are throw into the trailer and taken back to the shed while the mothers follow, wanting to nourish and care for their young. The most heart-breaking moment is when the cows are led up to the shed for milking. They moo and yell to their children, who are confined in a crowded pen. They want to be together. I’m sorry, but we need protein.
All of the cows and heifers are impregnated so they can lactate. We had around 200 calves. About 30 of the calves were kept on the farm as replacements. The other 170 were sent away in the “bobby trucks” were they would either be chopped up for dog food or fattened up for a few months and then sold as veal. We need protein.
Yeah, what about protein? Don’t you feel malnourished?
When I used to lift weights, my diet was mostly meat, dairy and whey. There’s no protein in plants, I always thought.
Ha. In the past week I have been astonished to learn that nearly every plant has protein. Then there are super foods, ancient grains and multipurpose cereals.
All of these contain protein: Broccoli, spinach, peas, sweet potato, soybeans, soy milk, lentils, chickpeas, peanuts, cashews, walnuts, almonds, whole meal flower, nut butters, hemp seeds, chia seeds, linseeds, quinoa, brown rice, oatmeal, bean sprouts, tofu, tempeh, edamame and kale.
I’ve been eating plants for a week and I don’t feel malnourished. I actually feel better than I ever have.
My skin is glowing. My stomach is happy. My brain has more power. I feel more awake. My sinuses feel more open. My poop has been a thing of beauty. My body is working better in every way. I can feel it.
Was it difficult to completely change my diet overnight?
It was incredibly easy. The morning after watching Cowspiracy, I tipped out my milk and gave away my cheese, butter, ham and salami. I just couldn’t do it anymore.
Every meal I’ve cooked since then has been fun and exciting. I made curry for the first time ever. Throw a bunch of vegetables in a skillet with a bit of oil, add curry paste and coconut cream and eat over jasmine rice. Amazing.
I made ramen with organic noodles containing 12 grams of protein per serving. I never thought noodles could have protein. Add some tofu, steamed veggies a hoisin sauce and it’s the bomb.
Even before this transition I ate vegetables nearly every night, but now I am thinking outside the box. I’m no longer just throwing a pat of butter in a pan and adding veggies and meat. I can’t wait to learn new recipes and experiment with different spices, cuisines and techniques.
You’re just a fucking hippie! Get a job, eat meat and shut up!
I do have a job, thank you very much. I fold sheets and towels, clean the kitchen and slice the bread every afternoon in exchange for accommodation at a beautiful hostel in Nelson.
That doesn’t count, does it?
You’re right. I’m a bearded, yoga-practicing, pot-smoking, anti-capitalist-writing, Dr.Bronner’s-for-everything vegan, traveling around New Zealand in a 1987 Mitsubishi campervan.
And I couldn’t be happier.
But, seriously, man. What’s next? Barefeet? Actually I have been walking barefoot around the hostel and the park for the past couple of days and my calves and feet feel so much stronger and I feel like I am walking more naturally than I have in years.
Oh Jaysus. Just don’t grow dreadlocks.
No one else is vegan. You’re going to be forever alone.
During my first three days of vegan cooking, people in the hostel observed me and asked what I was doing.
Matias, from Uruguay, and Angela, from Argentina, were speaking ultra-fast Spanish as I sliced tempeh.
“Sean, is that cheese?” he asked me in English.
It’s fermented soybeans I tell him, lots of protein. This was my first time cooking with tempeh so I had no idea what to expect when I put it in the skillet. I added some soy sauce and sweet thai chili and, god damn, it was so tasty.
The next day I joined the South American table with a heaping plate of brussel sprouts, mushrooms, tomato and tofu. They all examine me.
“Porque, Sean?… What about vitamin B12?… Necesitas carne,” the girls interrogate me.
I don’t know! I just started doing this I don’t know what I’m doing or anything about vitamin B12!
Giovanni from Italy looks at my plate.
“Chickpeas, broccoli, cabbage… Are you vegetarian?”
“Vegan,” I reply.
“You poor guy.”
And then I met John.
I brought a joint into the smoke-O room on Friday night to share my favorite plant. Around midnight at the hostel, everyone who wants to keep drinking has to go into town. As the exodus began, I started talking to John. After a half-hour, everyone was gone and we were still talking not giving a fuck about what anyone else was doing.
He has thick-rimmed glasses and shaggy ginger hair. He wears linen pants and a loose fitting red collared shirt. He is from England and we both manage to squeeze in, “man,” into every sentence.
I started telling John about Bernie Sanders, because that’s what I do. I was explaining his platform when all of the sudden it clicked for both of us. Bernie is the American Jeremy Corbyn. An old-school leftist, populist politician who sticks to what he believes in and knows that his way will bring prosperity and peace to the people.
“No, but I’ve heard of it. Why, are you a veg?” John asked as he smiled.
“I’ve been vegan for three days,” I said
Instant best friends. He’s been a vegetarian for two years and has been vegan for three months, ever since he couldn’t finish eating a slice of pizza in Auckland. We talked about how much better the body feels on a plant-based diet. He said his acne vanished once he dropped meat.
The following evening, we had a little dinner date and now I’m sure everyone thinks were gay. Nope, just vegan.
He showed me one of his go-to meals. Cauliflower, onion, chickpeas and tomato sauce with fresh spinach wrapped in a tortilla served with wedges.
We ate a lot and talked about what we couldn’t recall from our conversation last night. I felt so full afterwards.
He said when he used to eat meat he would want to put his head down and rest after such a meal. But on a plant-based diet, he has never felt sluggish. If you eat a lot of plants, you’ll just a have a really good poop later.
The next day I showed him the vegetable green curry I was cooking. We are both staying at this hostel for a few months, so we will have plenty of time to share recipes and ideas.
It’s so good to have someone to share this with.
You’ve only been vegan for one week. You won’t stick with it.
I realize seven days is not a lot of time to really gauge how this will affect me. But I don’t see any reason why I would ever go back.
When I walked through the meat section of the grocery, I felt a sudden burst of anxiety. I felt bad that I ate these products for so many years without a second thought. I quickly moved on and picked out oranges, bananas, broccoli, onions, capsicum, carrots, cabbage, muesli, quinoa, linseed, curry paste, coconut cream, organic brown sugar, psyllium husk, tofu and sultanas.
I really don’t think I can eat dairy or meat or eggs ever again. I can’t do it. Something has clicked inside of me.
It’s easy to do this living at a hostel with a kitchen and a health-food store in town. The real struggle will be from going out to eat with friends and family and having to make sure everything is free of animal products. I’ll have to talk to every waiter and read every ingredient when I shop.
I’m not a true vegan, however, because most of my clothing is merino wool. This is going to be a much more difficult transition. I’m a budget traveler and I don’t own much clothing. My socks, underwear, top and bottom base layers, sweater, t-shirt, singlet and gloves are all wool. A few weeks ago, I bought $300 leather hiking boots. I would be naked if I gave up my animal clothing. I posed this question to the vegan subreddit and they said I shouldn’t worry about it, just replace it over time. Phew, at least they won’t look down on me for not being pure.
One person going vegan isn’t going to change the world.
My generation is different. My generation has the Internet and Netflix.
At the time I watched it, Cowspiracy was at the top of the “Popular on Netflix” queue. Then there’s, Forks over Knives and Food Matters, both very convincing scientific accounts of the benefits of a plant-based diet. If you want to be disgusted by how humans treat other animals, watch Earthlings.
People are watching these documentaries and becoming interested in how to live better lives.
My generation cares about the world. We are tired of extreme inequality and careless disregard for the Earth. With President Bernie Sanders, we will start a revolution. We will reverse climate change and reduce poverty and humans will become happy animals living in balance with the world we share with so many others.
All we need is information and social media.
Everyone has to do something.
I can’t pretend to be an ethically-grounded, environmentally-conscious human and writer if I’m eating eggs for breakfast, sliced ham for lunch and 300 grams of neatly packaged boneless, skinless chicken thighs with a glass of milk for dinner.
This is such an easy thing to do and if everyone puts in a small amount of effort, we can shift the way people view animal products.
The truth is, meat and dairy production is killing the world. And it’s killing humans. And it’s killing animals.
We don’t need it. All we need is plants. We can live very happy and healthy lives on vegetables, legumes, grains and cereals. It’s so easy. Grow stuff in the ground and eat it. It’s cheaper, easier and healthier than raising livestock. And it doesn’t involve torture and pain.
We have to live like it’s 2100 or 2200. We can’t just live until the next election cycle. Live in the future, be vegan.