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I went on retreat in a convent over the weekend.  It was a good time, with lots of space for letting life percolate and renewing relationships.  Over the course of the weekend, the whole Vegan ‘thing’ popped up regularly in the conversation.

Now, going on retreat in a convent is not like going on a Buddhist retreat, where Vegan, or at least Vegetarian, food would be par for the course.  Those of you who’ve had any kind of contact with Christianity (in the UK at least) will know that adherents to this faith (with some truly amazing exceptions) tend to be of a conservative nature, and when it comes to eating, are likely to be ‘meat and potatoes’ types.  This despite the fact that early in the first, and possibly most famous (or infamous, depending upon your point of view) book of the bible we find the words “… and God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.”  (Interestingly, nothing is said about eating animals until after the flood…).  I’m not a literalist bible reader, and I think we have a conscience for a reason and need to exercise it daily, so I’m not going to start justifying Veganism with bible quotes, but I will say that I’m happy to see (out here on the internet) that there are plenty of Christians who are coming around to the perspective that a number of Eastern faith traditions have embraced for a long time, that we need to tread lightly on the earth.  After all, even though I don’t know the bible that well, I can categorically tell you that God definitely didn’t say “you shall enslave animals in mass industrial production systems, subjecting them to pain, violation and terror on a mass scale never imagined by the wandering Israelites when they ate their manna from heaven.”

To be honest, things were not looking promising before we arrived at the convent.  My Vegan co-conspirator had been told on first enquiry that, “We can look after the Vegetarians, but the Vegans will have to eat beans on toast.”  He responded with a helpful list of things Vegans DO eat and we crossed our fingers and hoped for the best.  (Well, I actually went prepared with a box of things to snack on  if it turned out there was no protein to be had.  I’ve got a way to go before I can “consider the lilies of the field” and not worry about how I’m going to come by food…  although I do believe in seeking that elusive thing ‘the Kingdom of God’.  In respect of that, I’ll be much better at contributing to that Kingdom if I’m not stroppy because my blood sugar is low.)

We need not have worried.  Being a Vegan guest in a retreat house was just like being a Vegan guest anywhere else; I have so far found that if you equip your hosts with a bit of knowledge they will willingly rise to the occasion, even if they do feel a bit anxious about it.  We were taken very good care of, following the diet of the Vegetarian sisters (of which there were four in residence that weekend) who had all agreed to go Vegan for the time we were there.  I am quietly impressed by this, as most of the sisters are advanced in years and probably used to their routine.  I was certainly touched by their kindness.  They also supplied us with some Vegan nibbles in the cottage: lots of houmous, some cornbread, and a ‘Vegan’ kitemarked ‘sausage’ which I hadn’t tried before and was an interesting experience (if you want to know my ‘Thoughts on Imitation Foods’, please see the earlier post from 19th February under that name).  We certainly didn’t go hungry.  Our final meal with the sisters was Sunday lunch, for which we had a lovely lentil pie, gorgeous greens (spring cabbage and curly kale) and roast potatoes, followed by stewed apple with raisins and spices.  It was a delicious meal in good company.

At that meal (the only one not taken in silence) I sat across from one of the sisters, whose beautiful spirit was infectious.  She is Vegetarian and she arrived late for lunch because she had been out at a church service in the local community.  As she tucked into her lentil pie, she said, “I’m so glad we’re eating Vegan this weekend. If I’m ever in hospital, I always ask for Vegan food because it’s always the tastiest and best.”  She was an elderly woman, bright-eyed, curious, talkative, full of gratitude and very much ‘alive’.  We talked about Samosas, Fiji, and music. 

With food anxieties put to one side, there was plenty of time on retreat for noticing other things.  Things like how, if you do things with a deliberate intention, they can become more vivid; how, if you frame your day in a structure of prayer or meditation, it’s like having regular time to ‘breathe’, to ‘check in’ and see how things are; how a group of people living together in a committed way has a different kind of texture to the kind of reality I’m used to.  Being ‘monastic’ made me think about rules.  It was certainly the case that when I first heard of Veganism it seemed like a very strict rule to live by.  Having chosen it voluntarily and started doing it, renewing that commitment on a day-to-day basis, my perception is different;  I actually find the rule helpful to me.  In narrowing down my choices, it frees me to focus more clearly on specific things, like on how to make tasty, colourful, healthy meals out of what is allowed to me, and on being grateful for the abundance that’s available.

Living Vegan has enriched the way I think about living in faith.  For a long time I didn’t practice the faith I was raised in, it seemed like an affront to my liberty to have to adhere to rules which encroached on personal areas of my life.  Over the past couple of years I’ve found myself wanting to re-commit to living under rules which seek to govern the heart.  It’s important that this is something I’m choosing freely.  It feels positive for that reason.  Life tastes better when you focus on what you CAN do with commitment, creativity and joy. 

It’s not like there’s been any massive revolution, and you might not notice anything different on the outside, but it’s like my compass has been re-set or something.  When I say I’m evolving into  a ‘Christian, Vegan Bicyclist’, Dan jokes that I should get a t-shirt printed with the slogan “Hell For Leather”.  Well, I don’t want to push my slogans on anyone else, but I do want to share them.  Maybe there’s something in common here too between practising Veganism and practising a faith; when you find something good you want to tell everyone about it.

I’ve completed a month of living with my commitment to The Vegan Pledge.

www.vegansociety.com/veganpledge

OK, it has been the shortest month of the year, but here I am, nevertheless, having deliberately (and mostly successfully) avoided consuming anything from an animal for a full 4 weeks:  no meat, fish, milk, cheese, honey, or any other animal derivatives.

When I started I was excited and apprehensive.  I remember that I was worried about missing cheese, and unsure about feeding myself well.  I was excited at the prospect of experiencing better health.

So, where am I now?  What have I learned?

I haven’t missed cheese.  I’ve not missed meat or cheese at all.  I’m not surprised about the meat, because I didn’t eat much of it anyway, but I am really surprised that I haven’t missed cheese.  I probably used to eat cheese almost every day, in some form or other, and quite mindlessly at that.  To make meals without it I’ve had to switch the focus onto a wider variety of grains and vegetable ingredients, but I’ve enjoyed this in the main, and have been so busy thinking about it that I’ve not had time to think about cheese.  I find it strange that I’ve not felt a craving for it, and I wouldn’t know how to explain this, but it’s something I’ve observed.  (Oh, there was a little bit of a craving at the Indian buffet on Sunday, when Dan had Mattaar Paneer and I couldn’t, but there were so many other vegetable curries to choose from, it wasn’t exactly difficult to get over that craving.)

I have missed eggs.  I have really missed eggs!  Dan said last night, “So, is the first thing you’re going to do in the morning make a big plateful of scrambled eggs?” and I have to admit that the thought had crossed my mind.  I haven’t done it though.  I was pleased to discover last weekend that I do actually like scrambled tofu and I know I can create that satisfying cooked breakfast feeling from other things, so I think that in time I can get used to it.  This is the one food however, where I have to work at it, and the biggest help with this is to remind myself of my disgust at animal cruelty reasons for going Vegan.  Thinking about male chicks going in a grinder pretty much does the trick.  To be honest, having one thing that I miss really isn’t that bad.  I had expected it to be worse.

I have really enjoyed eating more, and different, veg.  When I’ve had time, cooking has been an absolute pleasure this month, and I’ve also enjoyed trips to the greengrocer’s to fill up a basket with good things.  I’ve really tried to take on board the need to eat a wide variety of vegetables and I’ve been inspired by the idea of eating a spectrum of colours.  I’ve definitely broadened my palette where vegetables are concerned and I’ve also noticed that my appreciation of flavour has changed.  Things taste more vivid now, and I’m more aware of subtle differences in flavour.  I think there is something in the argument that having a system full of animal-derived products has a dulling effect on the senses.  Or maybe it was just that I wasn’t paying so much attention before.

Vegan subculture is interesting and inspiring.  I’ve really enjoyed visiting other people’s blogs for ideas and seeing the world through many different eyes.  I don’t think Vegan food is boring at all, which is perhaps a common perception among omnivores.  I’ve eaten a lot more interestingly this past month than I have done for a long time, and this is certainly something I wish to carry forward.  On the whole, I’ve found that the other Vegans practising their craft out there on the internet (and the few I’ve met locally) are very nice, creative-living, gentle people.  The kind of people I like to be around.  I’ve occasionally felt a bit alienated by the vehemence of some of the animal rights advocates out there, but, having now seen plenty of the evidence, I can understand where these preachers are coming from.  I just wouldn’t choose to put it across in such a hostile way myself.  Like I’ve said in a previous post, I think we need to help the humans get their lives sorted out, otherwise there’s little chance they will feel inclined to be compassionate towards animals.  People who are Vegan seem to be into other stuff that I like: poetry, hiking, independence, mindful living…  It feels like a good place to be.

The jury’s still out on how it’s affecting my health.  As those who’ve followed this blog will know, I’ve had ups and downs throughout the month when it comes to health.  I’ve had periods of energy and clarity, and periods of stomach ache and tiredness.  I can’t attribute this TO Veganism, because my health was kind of erratic before.  Struggling with it was one of the motivations for trying a Vegan diet.  I’d say that overall, there’s not been any massive change so far, but things are certainly not any worse, and there have been days of feeling extremely well indeed.  I think it will take a while for any real health changes to make themselves known, and some of the things I’ve experienced could be put down to a ‘detox’ effect.  I’ve lost about 4lbs in weight, and if this carries on I’ll be set to lose my excess pounds before the year is out, which will be a good thing.  One thing I had been specifically interested in was whether it made me less sneezy and wheezy.  I can’t say it has, because, over the last week I’ve had a cold.  There’s been one going round at work, so it’s not surprising that I’ve caught it, although part of me had hoped that upping my vegetable consumption would help my immune system.  This is the third cold I’ve had this winter, so I guess I’ve got a way to go to good health.  As cold’s go, it’s not been too bad. I think there is a reduction in the ‘snotty’ factor, and I’ve managed to keep going and do everything I wanted to do this week.  I’m not 100% confident that I’m getting the balance right yet for all the nutrients I need, so I’ve started taking the Vegan Society’s VEG1 supplement and I’m considering taking an iron supplement, as, looking back over my daily food diary, I don’t think I’m getting enough of that.  There are days that are iron-rich, and days with very little.  What I would say, is that doing this has made me more ‘health-aware’ in relation to food on a day-to-day basis and I’ve been putting a lot more thought into this than I did before.

There’s been a positive effect on my mood.  I used to swing from high to low easily and frequently and it was very much related to sugar highs and energy crashes.  By the end of the first week of this new way of eating I’d noticed that the ‘lurching’ feeling as my mood rose and plummeted was simply not there anymore.  I attribute this to eating ‘whole’ food and natural fats and sugars, rather than Vegan food specifically, but, for me, having the Vegan rule makes it very easy to make the wholefood choice in a way that I’ve never managed successfully before.  As well as feeling more on an even keel, I feel more in touch with who I am and what I want, and emotions are flowing more freely.  This has brought up some ‘stuff’, but, for the first time in a long time, I feel able to go with it, rather than trying to block or supress it, and it feels good to be saying how I really feel.  As I learn to manage this better, I’m not sure how it feels for the other people in my life, but, I trust that if I present a clearer picture of who I am, and honour my self, that will free them up to choose whether they really like me or not, and that’s all to the good.  I used to try to make myself liked by everyone, which was, frankly, exhausting.  I think I could sum this up by saying I feel less like a hologram, and more like a human being, a change very much to be welcomed.  I’m going away on retreat this weekend, so it will be interesting to see what comes up through the process of making space and time for stillness and silence.

Being Vegan doesn’t stop you doing anything.  I’ve had a normal month, but also a busy and happy month.  I’ve done my job, seen friends and family, danced at the weekly dance class I attend, been for my acupuncture appointments, campaigned to save the local library, ridden my bike…  Life goes on as normal.  How you eat quickly becomes just a part of that.  It’s only taken a month for eating Vegan to feel normal.  By the time this week arrived, I didn’t have any urge to count down the days until the end of The Vegan Pledge, and, although I’ve wondered about eating eggs, I’m not planning on doing that any time soon.  For now, I’ll carry on with this Vegan journey and see where else it takes me.

People are nice and supportive.  I’ve not had any negativity from others over my Vegan choice, only supportive reactions, ranging from mild curiosity to outright enthusiasm.  Personal favourites are Dan’s fresh approaches to Vegetarian cooking, which he seems to be enjoying as much for himself as to keep me happy, and the thoughtfulness my auntie put into making me welcome at her home last weekend, from stocking up on a few Vegan basics, to sourcing recipes from the internet that we could cook and eat together.  The worst moment was having to deal with not getting a Vegan lunch on the work training day (I never did get a response to my feedback email), but, in the great scheme of things, it was one moment of hassle in what has mostly been an enjoyable journey.  It has been nice feeling accepted and supported, and I’ve found most people, if you provide them with a bit of information, are not bamboozled by Veganism at all.  It’s almost like they’re on the edge of being ready to have a go at it themselves.  Perhaps the Vegan Evolution really is gathering momentum.

So, for the time being, you’ll still find me here, following a Vegan diet and starting to explore other aspects of a Vegan lifestyle.  I won’t be posting every day, but I’ll be back here once or twice a week, and hope to add a few pictures as well (although I know I’ve promised that before).  Watch out for forthcoming posts on how much money I’m spending, eating out, an interesting experience at an acupuncture appointment, and some road tests of Vegan hair and body care products.  There will probably be some more about mindfulness too.  For me, that’s been a big part of what this is about.  More attention given to sourcing food, preparing food and eating food has slowed me right down and anchored me in the moment in a good way.  How we nourish ourselves is such a fundamental thing, and I can’t help feeling, even more strongly now, that this is terribly important.

Oh, and I’ll also be taking part in the campaign ‘Enough Food For Everyone IF…’  I think I’ll start by hassling a few MPs with some letters and then see what else there is to be done.  For further info. follow the link below.

http://enoughfoodif.org/

And, after month in Vegan Blog Land, here’s a link to my favourite Vegan blog so far.  The writer is passionate and positive and she’s organised her content really well.  It looks good too.  I always enjoy checking in here for inspiration.

www.oopsimavegan.com

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