Veg*n Cooking and Other Random Musings: Balance

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Balance

I know I’ve posted some 'heavy' commentary lately, but I’ve had a lot on my mind, to those of you who come to this blog predominantly for the food, I apologize – this is more commentary.

This post is going to be quite a bit more personal than usual, I generally try to limit my commentary to things that I feel will educate or enlighten people, but I think that getting one’s feelings out in the open can be very therapeutic, which is something I need right now – and perhaps if any of you desire, you will learn more about me. This will probably be hard to follow, but hopefully will be at least partially coherent.

::Climbing on my soap box::

I think whoever said ‘ignorance is bliss’ was not only spot on, but must have been a strong seeker of knowledge. You see, at least in my experience, the more you learn, the more you realize you don’t know. There are times when it can feel like the weight of the world are on one’s shoulders and you have no clue what to do or even what’s really going on anymore.

I’ve said before I’m a much different person now than I used to be, what I mean by that is that I used to be a quite selfish person who didn’t see beyond my own conception of reality. I’ve often wondered where I began to see a world beyond myself, and to question who I was as a person. I think I began to change while in college (big surprise). I took a social psychology course with an incredibly radical teacher who opened my eyes to many concepts that made the world around me make more sense, and also to ask more questions – of others and myself. This started what one could rightly call an obsession with knowledge and learning.

Over the years I have experienced my share of cognitive dissonance. Basically what that means is that I had closely held beliefs and views that were shattered upon being exposed to new information. It makes for a lot of discomfort, but it also opens up the possibility for personal change, which is how I tried to approach it.

Long story short, I’ve changed very much over the past few years – my values, my priorities, my view of my place in the world and my responsibility to others. But perhaps more important than that is I’ve almost gone from one extreme to another – from being too selfish to not selfish enough, to a point where I find myself needing to seek balance, to find consistency, to determine what parts of the things I’ve learned that I want to internalize, and how to break the notion that I need to fit into some sort of ‘box’ (this is also called conformity).

Once I began to question and accept basic things – such as the history taught to me in public school was akin to propaganda – as is our modern ‘mainstream’ media, that politics is dirty and really has little to do with ‘we the people’, and the ‘real world’ isn’t necessarily a friendly place, I began to look at more specific concepts. I began learning about things like peak oil, the environment, social justice, economics (the American economy is a dirty and quite scary ‘house of cards’), and so on. This led me to begin to change many of my behaviors (and of course Brett too, these are changes made together) such as giving up a junker car rather than fixing it or getting a new one, becoming a vegetarian, reducing my waste, reducing my spending, reducing and being conscious of my energy and water consumption, making more mindful choices, learning to cook, learning to garden, trying to educate others, and so on.

But what I found at every turn was that the problem was bigger and more complex than I had originally thought. There was always more to do and that I could never possibly do enough. The more I learn, the more I also realize how unprepared myself and the world is for the ‘doomsday’ version of how tomorrow might be – due to war, famine, climate change, economic collapse, declining energy, you take your pick.

Awhile ago, I began to feel guilty spending my time doing activities that I enjoyed, such as playing video games, enjoying music, being outside, watching birds, etc. I could be learning more, reducing more, educating others! I know now, having given myself time to get my head around this that I have been being irrational, but just because I understand many concepts of psychology does not make me immune to falling prey to them myself. This guilt led me to spending pretty much all my free time watching documentaries, researching more, formulating posts and commentary, even joining and delving head first into activism (I quickly decided that I do not think political action is really the most effective avenue for change at this point.), and to be completely honest, the world out there isn’t all that pretty. The problems are big – probably too big, and there is always more to be done – but what I have been coming to realize is that I don’t have to be the one to do it all – it’s impossible, and wouldn’t even be desirable if I could. I can’t even know everything about one subject– things are just too complex.

Lately, the world has seemed a pretty bleak place to me, our prospects seem pretty bad at times, and it seems the problems are so large in number that they may be insurmountable. I have worried greatly for the future – to the point of not really enjoying the here and now, which is all we really have, we have no way of predicting the future. In my guilt and worry, I’ve forgotten how far I’ve come, how many positive things I am doing to make things better, and the amazing person I’m doing it with – I now need to learn how to balance the enjoyable aspects of life with the ‘real’. I’ve come to accept that I can’t feel guilty for enjoying myself or doing something simply for the sake of joy, what good am I to the world if I feel helpless and depressed all the time? Not to mention, there are still many things to smile about right now. Relationships, nature, cooking, gardening, music, being silly, letting loose – essentially, I need to lighten up, which isn’t something I ever thought I would have to tell myself, I’ve always been such a laid back person. Honesty with oneself is not always pretty, but honesty is something I value very much, and I have to hold myself to the same standards as I hold others.

I’ve also had to convince myself that there is little value in labels or embracing them – especially when I don’t really fit them. I don’t think I feel comfortable calling myself an environmentalist anymore, I no longer actively do anything to change the way things are aside from trying educate others when I can and living my life how I think it should be lived, I find activism to be ineffective at the current moment. Essentially, one would be very accurate to say that I hold a lot of the basic principles that environmentalists do, but I feel that there are values or opinions implied in the term that I do not necessarily share.

I also don’t feel comfortable calling myself a vegan – not necessarily because of my current dietary choices, but more what it implies. I did not become a vegetarian for ethical reasons, this part of the ‘argument’, so to speak, wasn’t something I reflected on until a later time. I did it because meat production is incredibly environmentally destructive on the massive scale it is today. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve always felt that the way we ‘rear’ modern livestock is cruel and shameful, but at the time I wasn’t necessarily morally opposed to the idea of eating meat in general, it was this meat, reared this way. I should note that I gave up all dairy products before I even became a vegetarian – I have a mild allergy to dairy which causes me to become very stuffy when I consume it, so for obvious reasons, I quit consuming dairy products.

This vegetarian diet worked well for me for awhile, I also began to shop more locally and try to eat things in season as well. Then I began learning about modern, large scale egg production and how harmful this too was on the environment and the chickens. I again felt cognitive dissonance and ruled that I could no longer eat eggs, any eggs. Again, eggs were not something that I had or even still have a moral conflict with consuming. I do understand the ‘pro-life’ argument (though respectfully disagree), or individuals who feel we don’t have the ‘right’ to use animals for our own gain, to exploit them in any way - this argument I can go along with to an extent, but I think competition is a natural part of life and we wouldn’t have gotten to the point humans have had we as a species not been willing to compete. That doesn’t make it ‘right’, but I’m not sure nature understands such concepts, nor ones such as ‘justice’. Those are concepts that humans created who ourselves have much difficulty internalizing as a whole. I am in no way trying to discredit ethical veganism or the more law or philosophically oriented reasons for being a vegan, not at all, I think those are very valid viewpoints, I am just trying to explain why those explanations don’t work for me. And I have to point out that I think it’s perfectly alright that people have many different reasons for doing the things they do. I personally had to get here a different route and I have a different perspective, that’s all.

What I’m saying is, say I had a chicken, I would of course treat her properly, and she would quickly become my companion. Would I eat that chickens eggs? Yes I probably would, because I would know that I was being light on the environment, treating the chicken well, and that the egg would never be fertilized since I would not have a male. Would I eat the chicken? No. Am I going to go eat eggs tomorrow? No, of course not. I am very unwilling to even buy eggs from the farmer’s market as I have no insurance what the scale of the operation is, what the animals were fed, how they were treated, how their waste was handled and so on. My basic point is that I feel uncomfortable calling myself a vegan when I am unsure that I will never consume an egg again, eating eggs isn’t vegan, and for this and other reasons I have chosen not to call myself vegan.

I will say quite openly and honestly that I am very torn about how I feel about honey. Truly. And that is how I will leave that one.

As I have reflected on my reasons for being a veg*n or whatever you would like to call it, I began to realize that I have a tendency to discredit emotion or any sort of effective reasons for my holding a belief, which is silly. I will never eat meat again unless my life depends on it – and even then I’m not so sure, if times were so desperate that I was faced with that decision, they might not be times worth living in. Even if suddenly, all CAFO’s were shut down, and meat began to be reared in an environmentally benign way, I would still not eat meat as I have a problem with eating another creature – plain and simple. I do not judge others for eating meat and do not think the world should become vegetarian, but I personally cannot eat an animal, it just seems wrong. While this wasn’t my initial, or even still, my primary reason for not eating meat, should that primary environmental aspect be removed, then I would just have the moral or ethical argument, and that’s alright.

I feel that I am beginning to absorb some of what I’ve learned and experienced – it’s going to take awhile. I’ve learned to be more honest with myself and vicariously with others. My motivations for the way I live my life are now clearer to me, and I’ve been able to enjoy myself, truly, for the first time in awhile, because I finally talked about it. I will always want to learn more, to keep up with what’s going on around me, to learn to live more lightly and closer with nature, but will also stop to have fun, to enjoy life. It’s hard to accept that one should have to remind themselves to do that.

I guess the ‘moral of the story’ (my advice to you based on my own experience, however valid or useful that may be), is learn about the world around you, do what you can - but don't let it overwhelm you, always stop to enjoy what's out there and who is experiencing it with you. Oh, and don’t let people (or yourself) put you into boxes, it seems easy, and it’s nice to have an quick way of ‘identifying’ with others, but we are all too complex and much deeper than these labels imply. Embrace that.

Thank you for allowing me to go on and on, and rant about nonsense and all the rest.

::Getting off the soap box now::

I promise I will be back with food soon, and I’ll try to post the weekly garden update today. Game 2 of the NBA Finals are on tonight – I don’t know who I’m rooting for, but I watched the first game and it was some good basketball.

15 comments:

Catherine said...

I know how you feel -- I went veg for health and environmental reasons. Most people think "vegetarian" immediately, and it's the easiest way to explain to others why I don't eat meat. However, dig deeper, and I, like you, am first and foremost a conservationist. Veg comes as a result of those beliefs.

Takes all types, really! We're all doing our best, and that's what matters -- what you call it is secondary. :)

Alice (in Veganland) said...

Our world is completely overwhelming when we think about it...
Talk about this issues as much as you want/need! We all have different reasons to go the way we go in life, and it's nice to see how others are doing :-)

Lizzy said...

i really liked this post and i can imagine how good it felt to get it off your chest... sometimes i feel like i'm the only one who feels so overwhelmed by the fact that reality seems to be already lost and when you look closer all you can see is hate and greed and selfish people (especially in comparison to places like these... where you log in and you're surrounded by people you wish you'd have around you in your neighbourhood because it appears that all the 'good people'(i'm counting you in there) who actually think about what they're doing, why etc. don't exist in our daily lives.
"ignorance is bliss" ... what a true statement. honestly, and i hate myself for that, sometimes i wish i were a person who doesn't give a crap. who just enjoys the moment, doesn't give a crap about karma, about others, about the world, anything really... but then there are moments when i feel THANKFUL for being the kind of person who's not willing to accept things just as they are because someone says so.
blah, i wish i could write in german right now so i could bring in more detailed points here, but anyway.
you can be MORE than just proud of yourself. you could've stayed the person you were, but you expanded your own horizons and it's only fair that you reward yourself with simple things without feeling bad. but i hear you are aware of that so i guess all i can say is that i really admire you for your thirst for knowledge (i'm the kind of person who rather shuts down because i don't want to know about the horrible thruths which will eventually bring me down and that scares me because i get caught up in the "this world is so bad and already lost, why try and fight?" more often than not, something i'm working on hard not to do anymore...) and the actual change you do around you and more importantdly the change you went through yourself.
i kinda got lost here, but i hope i made sense somehow =)

Courtney said...

Thank you for sharing your thoughts in this post. I can really relate! I often feel so overwhelmed and am constantly rushing from task to task...even when I do do "fun" things with friends or on my own, I am in a hurry to get it done and move on and can never seem to stop and just enjoy myself and live in the moment. Thank you for the reminder!

We all have different reasons for eating the way we do, and like you said, you wouldn't judge someone who eats meat, so no one should be judging you for your reasons not to or for how you label your diet etc. Wouldn't it be nice if everyone had these same non-judgmental views?!

Thanks again for your post!

Courtney

selina said...

i love everything you just said. i love your honesty. :) keep on keepin on!

i will say i became veg*n for ethical reasons & my way of living has evolved from that. at first i wasnt concerned about the environment. mostly because it wasnt a thought that ever crossed my mind. but my beliefs about "living simply" evolved from my beliefs about veg*nism. and i enjoy living simply. its refreshing.

Cookiemouse said...

Jennifer, there must be something in the air, a disturbance in the force perhaps, but I know just how you feel. In the past few weeks I have also been through a life changing experience that has challenged everything that went before. The world is full of small miracles and large problems and that alone causes enough cognitive dissonance. Still keep the faith sister. Your writing shows what a big heart you have. Vegan is just a word but it is also a brand and badge of compassion. We may sometimes be overwhelmed but at least we have each other for support.

ChocolateCoveredVegan said...

Wow, you basically expressed everything I've been feeling, but you expressed it MUCH more eloquently than I ever could.

I constantly get upset when I look at the world and at how bleak situations are. Human rights' violations, natural disasters, greed, lust... it just gets so overwhelming when you are one person who is trying to make a difference in the world. I get home from volunteering at the animal shelter only to hear stories of millions more animals being neglected. I donate money and time to organizations such as UNICEF, only to hear of MORE people in need of aid every day (for example, I was all set to help out the people of Burma, and the very next day I heard of the earthquake in China!). It's enough to make even the most bubbly of people-- like me-- depressed.

As for the owning-your-own-chicken thing... my uncle's sister raises her own chickens, eats the eggs, and still calls herself a vegan, and I have absolutely ZERO problem with that. And I have to admit that I'm right there with you on the honey thing.

You are so compassionate, Jennifer; it's truly inspiring.

Bianca said...

OMG! I've had that same problem with filling guilty while doing things I enjoy...not really for the same reasons though. As long as whatever I'm doing feels productive (like cooking or cleaning), I'm okay. But I can't watch movies or read or anything without feeling like I'm wasting precious time. I still do those things, but I fight guilt everytime. It's annoying.

I'm also torn on honey. I don't eat it normally, but I don't really know why. It's just what I feel like I should do as a vegan. But my heart's not really in the honey thing. And it hasn't stopped me from eating the wheat bread at Subway, which has honey in it...so...

shellyfish said...

I think that you've touched on the fondemental problem with "labels", especially when we label ourselves. Being "who" we are, is so much more important that "labeling" who we are. It's a slippery sloap sometimes, and it causes us to lose site of our intention.

jessy said...

Jennifer,

wow! as i read this post i got all teary eyed and also very happy! i want to thank you for sharing your views, your emotions, and your ideas & beliefs with us. it's true - being and thinking and living in this world can be very overwhelming, and for individuals like yourself and others (i include myself here) it can be horribly overwhelming to walk around with all of this insight and knowledge we have while trying to make things right, tread lightly on this earth, and all while trying and enjoy ourselves a a little and live our own lives, too. i constantly find myself torn. hell, it's tough - and there are days when i think the same things - about how bleak the world's outcome is, starvation, injustices, violence, etc. but what i often forget is that there is hope, and love, and kindness - and that it's up to us to try and incorporate some of the good in our lives and that it's okay to take a breath and just smile - to enjoy our lives a little - and just be. and you've made me realize that i could use some lightening up a little, too! sometimes all i think about is this "doomsday gloom" and it's just not fun - it just consumes me and i need to step back and relax a little! :)

i don't care for labels either. and i think that they divide people and often times create a lot of anxiety, conflict, close mindedness, and even anger. labels just kind of force people into little boxes and no one should be stuck in a box. we're all different and we make things our own. we should celebrate these differences and respect them - we don't always have to agree with them - but it's nice to just let people be sometimes without putting them in to a category or stuffing them into a box.

so thank you again for sharing this with us. and thank you for speaking from your heart with such honesty and love.

you are making a difference, we all are trying to - and together some changes will happen and i think that things will be better. but enjoy life a little, and let go a bit - it'll feel pretty awesome! i have a feeling that you'll never lose touch - and that you'll still be just as awesome as you are now!

and now i'm going to take some of my own and advice, and some of yours, too - and i'm gonna sit back and relax a bit today, breathe, smile, and celebrate life a little!

~ jessy :)

Vegan_Noodle said...

Wow, just catching up on your posts... I have been really behind on commenting lately!!

Your explanation made me really think about my own reasons for doing things. Yes, this is a scary world. And it is definitely easy sometimes to get wrapped up in that and only see the glass half empty type of thing. I think simply the fact that you are aware of this internal battle is a good sign that you are coming to grips with your own beliefs and place in this world. Like you said, ignorance is truly bliss... but knowledge I think is far more empowering.

Lisa (Show Me Vegan) said...

Hey Jennifer, you're so right that balance is key to not getting burned out. What's that famous quote about don't do nothing because you can't do everything? My career allows me to feel as if I'm contributing to society, so in my freetime I goof off by watching The Office and Saving Silverman. Each person has to find her own balance. Good luck on your journey.

Jennifer said...

Catherine - It really is nice to know I'm not alone. :-) I'm glad you see where I am coming from, diet is a natural extension of adopting this new world view.

I agree - we all have something to offer, but none of us have it ALL. We need each other. Labels are useless and only stand to limit things.

Alice - It really is. And I often wonder, has it always been this way?

It's nice to get it out there - and I'm so glad that others have felt there is something of value in what I had to say. Venting can feel good from time to time.

Lizzy - I wish I could convey to you just how well you do with English. You have more of a grasp of English than many who natively speak it.

Sometimes it's almost too much to bear, it feels like the bad far outnumbers the good and that it won't change anytime soon. I understand what you mean completely. Brett and I
refer to the veg*n blogosphere as the 'veg*n community' because that is what is like. This is a group of like minded, caring people, who have compassion and concern for one another.

It seems like those people don't exist in our daily lives, but at times I wonder - I have never really tried to get to know my neighbors, are they people I would welcome into my community or not? I just don't really try.

Don't feel bad - I actually feel that way quite often, 'why the hell do I have to care? Nobody else does!' But I can't help it, and there are times when I know that my caring is the RIGHT way to be. And I AM thankful not to be naive even though knowledge can be a burden; I think it makes us more complete individuals.

Thank you Lizzy, it means a lot to hear you say that. I COULD have chosen to stay the way I was in light of everything and I didn't - I think a lot of others would change for the better too if exposed to a lot of the information hidden to them about the outside world (I am talking particularly about America here where our media, akin to propaganda, keeps us in the dark about anything IMPORTANT.)

You did make sense, thank you for commenting Lizzy, it's nice to know I'm not the only one who grapples with these things.

Courtney - Thank YOU for reading, honestly, I am beyond humbled that anyone got anything out of this, I really am.

I wouldn't call myself non-judgmental, I don't think any of us could while being honest with ourselves, I try very hard to be aware of that aspect of myself and remind myself why it's wrong to feel that way.

Selina - :-) I like that 'keep on keepin' on', good motto.

I really respect that and understand completely that the 'other' parts of why eating the way we do is a positive thing come with time. I went the opposite way as you, but here we are, in the same place in the end, doing many of the things we do for similar reasons.

Cookiemouse - I would have to agree - it seems like the weight of the times is weighing on us all.

Thank you for your kind words Cookiemouse, it means a lot to me.

Katie - Oh, spell checker helps a lot in the 'eloquence' department - but thank you, I really
appreciate your compliments. ;-)

It seems like you start to get your 'ducks in a row' for one thing and here come three more
problems. It starts to feel almost as if you are running in place. I seriously admire you for being able to keep up with it and to have such a big heart even with all the bad in the world right now.

I feel the exact same way about you Katie - you always remind me that there IS hope for the world, that human kindness without strings attached exists, and you inspire us all. This whole veg*n community is inspiring.

Bianca - It's hard not to feel guilty sometimes.

Shellyfish - I couldn't agree more with what you say. I understand the value of labels, as they make people easy to identify, put in groups, basically, on a cognitive level, it helps us save energy in determining how we feel about someone. However, labels are limiting and oftentimes misleading as well. And like you said, focusing on labels kind of makes us miss the point sometimes.

Jessy - Thank you for reading. I am glad you were able to get something out of my convoluted thoughts. It's hard for me to 'get personal' or share my true emotions sometimes, but it feels good and I see the value, both for myself and others. I can never live by my emotions as others do, I was raised far to 'rationally' than that, but I diminished the value of emotionality and there is very much value in understanding why you FEEL the way you do.

I think some days are good and others, well, the news just puts us into a funk, we feel helpless, overwhelmed, morally offended by the seeming lack of justice in the world, and so on. We forget about the good things - we forget about the bus driver who smiles at us and tells us to have a good day, and how important those small things are too.

It's hard to keep yourself from becoming consumed with all the madness, but we ALL need to be alright letting loose every now and again and being silly. Its healthy.

I agree with your analysis of labels. It does create conflict as the label creates an 'us and them' mentality. THEY are different; THEY don't fit in our box. If we humans were a homogenous species we wouldn't have gotten this far - period.

:-)

Vegan Noodle - No worries.

I agree - knowledge is empowering, so long as we don't let it consume us, it's all about moderation, eh?

Lisa - It can be hard not to get burned out when it seems like there is always more to get done.

I like that quote. I really do, I think it says a lot about apathy and why it is so dangerous.

You are lucky to have rewarding work, I enjoy what I do, but am not really contributing to society. But I do what I can.

And a little Office never hurts, humor is vital.

(chandelle) said...

WOW! i resonated with EVERYTHING you wrote. everything you said is such an enormous struggle for me, too. and i have the same feelings as you about all the same things. wish we could actually hang out, lady! thanks for putting my thoughts into words.

Jennifer said...

Chandelle - I am glad it resonated with you. To be honest, I am just honored that anyone got anything out of it. My intentions for posting it were selfish: these are things that have been bothering me, and it made me feel better to get it out there.

Yes, I agree, I think we would get along quite well. Damn the distance!