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Embracing a Vegan Lifestyle by Cosibella Cristenas

The best choice for our children, ourselves, and our planet. One of the most powerful ways to bring about peace and harmony in the world is for people to cease consuming animal products and to encourage others to do the same.

I remember the actual moment I decided to eliminate dairy products, and, in fact, all animal products from my life. While I had not eaten meat or fish for years, because I felt that no animal should die for my eating pleasure, I still enjoyed cheese, yogurt, and ice cream, oblivious to the cruel truth behind the dairy industry and its insidious by-product, veal production. My epiphany happened while I was watching an Animal Rights documentary called "Peaceable Kingdom." Having never before seen actual footage of the treatment of animals raised for human consumption, it was time I saw the bigger picture. I was appalled by what was revealed.

The scene opened in a cattle yard, where men were separating a cow and her day-old calf-a scene that is replayed thousands of times every day across the United States and in other countries, where the consumption of animal products is a mainstay. The cow was bellowing mournfully-the most distraught sounds I had ever heard come from a cow. The frantic cries of her calf pierced my heart. The men forced the cow to back away through a gate, and then closed it, leaving the terrified calf standing alone with excrement running down its hind legs. As the gate closed, I could only imagine how I would feel if it were my newborn being taken away. Such immeasurable agony! The narrator explains that, for days afterwards, the cow calls and searches for her baby. Cows grieve, too, I learned.

Once the animals had been separated, the (male) calf was taken into an enormous, stinking, dark shed filled with other calves, all held captive in narrow, wooden crates barely big enough for their soft, young bodies. Here, they were fed an iron-free diet (so their flesh will be white) and kept virtually immobile for several months (so their flesh will be tender), after which time many are so weak they have to be dragged and thrown onto the trucks destined for the slaughter houses. People demand tender, white veal, and I was being shown the immense suffering created by human desires. By consuming dairy products, I was supporting the heinous practice of veal production. The majority of male calves from dairy cows are raised for veal. I could barely watch or swallow.

The fate of the mother was equally horrifying. As happens every year, she was artificially inseminated so she would give birth and begin lactating. Her calf was taken away, so that her milk-intended for her babies-can be consumed by humans. Never setting foot in pasture or eating fresh grass, she is pumped full of growth hormones to increase milk production more than tenfold, fed other ruminants, and then milked several times daily, suffering many bouts of excruciating mastitis over the years, until her bones become so decalcified and her body so weakened by antibiotics that she can no longer stand. A cow has a life expectancy of 25 years, but a dairy cow lives for only four to five years. If she survives the agonizing, long haul to the slaughter house, she may be partially dismembered before she dies, and her flesh becomes hamburger (20 - 40% of hamburger is made from dairy cows that are no longer productive or profitable).

Witnessing the forced separation of a mother and baby of another sentient species and their subsequent torture, abuse, and violent deaths (just because humans have decided that these animals are ours to breed, eat, and exploit), I decided that I could no longer be a part of this way of life. How could I teach my children to love and respects themselves, fellow human beings and fellow creatures, and this glorious planet, if I was condoning the torture and butchering of animals? I faced the horrible truth that, by eating animal products, I was contributing to a violent world. I asked myself, "What good is gentle Lotus birth at home; co-sleeping; breastfeeding for years; no circumcision or vaccinations; no refined sugar; no TV or war toys; only non-violent books, films, and computer games; natural healing; organic food; yoga; meditation; and home schooling, if I am eating, and encouraging my children to eat, foods which have been procured through violence and exploitation?"

After doing some research, I discovered that even animals raised "organically," those that are "grass fed," or "free range," are treated in ways that violate their natural rhythms and instincts. Organic milk comes from cows whose lives are far from organic or natural. It is true that the cows from organic dairies are treated with more love and kindness while they are producing milk. They do eat grass, feel the sunshine, and are kept hormone-free, but they remain a commodity, and their lives, and the lives of
their offspring, are compromised. They are impregnated every year to keep them lactating, and their calves are forcibly removed and weaned onto bottled milk, sometimes as early as within the first few hours of birth. The male calves are raised to become organic beef, and most female calves join the herd, destined to be milked for the rest of their lives. Once they are no longer productive, they are subjected to the same slow, hideous, slaughter-house deaths as factory-raised animals.

There was simply no way I could justify eating animal products, organic or not, and live with complete integrity and true inner peace. The solution was obvious. I had to take a stand for a wholly peaceful world. I would embrace a vegan lifestyle. I must go this one step further and forego a few of the things I liked to taste in order to demonstrate a life which is truly peaceful and loving-one which embraces all of God's creatures and one which is not based on contradictions. If I wanted to see peace in the world, then change needed to start with me and my family, and our lives needed to embody and demonstrate peace in every way. This was the key which had been missing from my otherwise natural, organic, and loving approach to life.

How would my decision affect my family? My husband was similarly moved by what he had witnessed, and our four-year-old was vegan from birth, but our teenage son and ten-year-old daughter (who did not watch this documentary with us) ate animal products occasionally when dining out. I felt it was important for the older children to come to their own decisions so that they would feel empowered, and even impassioned, to share their wisdom. I knew they had to learn the truth behind the industries which were supplying them with the meat and dairy foods they were happily consuming.

I wanted to take them to a slaughter house, as I felt it was important to show what really happens to the animals before they end up under plastic in neat Styrofoam packages in supermarkets. While many may judge this action as cruel, hiding my children from the truth-that animals undergo unthinkable suffering so that we can eat them-was no longer something with which I felt comfortable. The fact that people choose to remain hidden from the realities of meat and dairy production ensures that the atrocities persist. I discovered that visits to these places (which have been likened to Nazi death camps) are not available to the public. I did further research, and found the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) website-what a God-send! A new world opened up for me-a world in which people truly love and care for all God's creatures, and one in which people ensure that no animal is hurt as a result of their behaviours and choices. I knew that, by embracing a vegan lifestyle, I was making the most important choice of all to ensure the health and well-being of my family, myself, and Mother Earth, whom I love with all my heart.

While devouring the wealth of information available through the PETA website, I found a film called "Eating" (second edition), which I instinctively knew was the one to show my two older children. It gives many reasons to adopt a plant-based diet, in addition to ending cruelty to animals (as if that is not enough reason). After viewing this documentary, my son said, "I never thought I wouldn't be eating meat again, but now I am choosing to be vegan and I am really glad that you did not make that decision for me." His beautiful, tender heart-encased by a thin veneer of teenage nonchalance-was deeply touched by the film. In addition to some graphic images and gruesome footage of the raising, transporting, and killing of animals (most of which are now factory farm animals), here are some of the many shocking facts which prompted him to choose a plant-based diet:

Pollution
The meat industry causes more water pollution in the United States than all other industries combined, because the animals raised for food produce 130 times more excrement than the entire human population-86,600 pounds (39,281 kilograms) per second. A typical pig factory farm generates a quantity of raw waste equal to that of a city of 12,000 people.

Land
Of all the agricultural land in the United States, 87% is used to raise animals for food. Twenty times more land is required to feed a meat-eater than to feed a pure vegetarian (i.e. vegan).

Water
Raising animals for food consumes more than half of all the water used in the United States. It takes 2,500 gallons (9,460 litres) of water to produce a pound (450 grams) of meat, but only 25 gallons (95 litres) to produce a pound (450 grams) of wheat. An individual can save 1 million gallons (3,780,000 litres) of water-every year-by giving up animal-based foods.

Deforestation
Rainforests are being destroyed at a rate of 125,000 square miles (323,748 square kilometers) per year to create space to raise animals for food. For every quarter-pound, fast-food burger made of rainforest beef, 55 square feet (5.1 square meters) of land are consumed.

Energy
Raising animals for food requires more than one-third of all raw materials and fossil fuels used in the United States. Producing a single hamburger patty uses enough fossil fuel to drive a small car 20 miles (32 kilometers) and enough water for 17 showers.

Health
Cancers (which are responsible for 25% of all the deaths in the U.S.) and heart disease (which kills 50% of the population annually) are the hallmarks of an animal-based diet. The human body cannot digest animal products, and, consequently, more people are becoming ill and dying because of the animals they eat. The U.S. Surgeon General has stated that "eating kills two thirds of Americans every year." What smoking does to the lungs, meat does to one's arteries. The causative effect between smoking and lung cancers was made in 1950, but it took decades for society to accept this fact. The inherent dangers of vaccinations are only now becoming more widely known and accepted. So, too, will the horrific toll that consuming animal products takes on our health and our planet soon become common knowledge.

Perpetuating Myths
The way we eat is determined by politics and greed. The food industry, like the tobacco industry, is more interested in profits than health. They set their guidelines accordingly. The food industry (funded and powered mainly by those who profit from meat and dairy sales) has been highly successful in its marketing, given that its annual advertising budget exceeds $30 billion, compared to the $30 million spent to advertise natural, plant-based foods. Their vigorous campaign has convinced the general public that animal products are essential for good health. Nothing could be further from the truth. Animal products are making us unhealthy. Unhealthy diets are responsible for 70% of medical therapy in the United States. The current epidemics of cancers, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes only began in the last century, when people shifted from plant-based to animal-based diets.

It is a myth that we need to eat meat to get protein and to drink milk to keep our bones strong. Daily requirements for protein can easily be met by selecting from a wide variety of plant-based foods. It is weight-bearing exercise, not calcium consumption, which determines bone density. It has thus been medically proven that today's widespread sedentary lifestyle is the cause of osteoporosis, the latter having nothing whatsoever to do with calcium consumption (or the lack thereof).

How about the simple laws of Nature? Why is it that no other animal on the planet (besides humans) drinks milk after it is weaned? Answer: Because the human body has no need for it!

Animals
One cannot be concerned about our environment without caring about our fellow inhabitants, the animals. They are made of flesh and blood, have complex social and psychological lives, and feel pain just as humans do. More than 25 billion animals are killed by the meat industry each year, and they are raised and killed in ways that would horrify any compassionate person. There is no compassion in modern agribusiness. Animals as treated as commodities, and their health and well-being are compromised from the moment of their birth. To ensure maximum profits, they undergo painful removal of body parts, confinement, unnatural and unhealthy diet and living conditions, brutality and physical abuse, drugs (70% of all antibiotics produced are used on farm animals), and an early, painful death.

Pigs (known to be as intelligent, social, and playful as dogs) are confined in individual metal crates, row upon row, feeding their young through bars. Egg-laying chickens (battery hens) are de-beaked without painkillers, crowded into tiny cages stacked one on top of the other in vast, disease-ridden sheds, and forced to lay eggs at a rate that eventually kills them. Broiler chickens are pumped full of massive amounts of growth hormones so that their bodies grow faster than their legs, and after a few months of suffering in unbearably overcrowded conditions, they can no longer stand. Many beef cattle are raised in feed lots where they stand all day in their excrement, shoulder to shoulder, eating pellets made from a sickening concoction of dead animals, including their own kind. Is it any wonder Mad Cow disease is a reality? Is it really a surprise that Bird Flu now threatens to become the next pandemic (www.who.int)? As I write, bacteria found in pigs is killing scores of people in China (www.chinadaily.com.cn, 27 July 2005).

If you would like to see for yourself the results of these practices, type into your computer's search engine "USDA food recalls." When the site comes up, select "Closed federal cases," then brace yourself for what you are about to see. (You can also look at "Open federal cases"; however, the government is a little better at hiding the facts until the cases are closed and have thus become undeniable, historical fact.) What you will find are hundreds of thousands of pounds of meats-sitting on shelves (and in stomachs) all over the country-containing the bacteria Listeria, the cause of 500 deaths each year. The consequences of treating God's creatures without compassion or love are upon us.

While these facts and figures are from the United States, there is no room for complacency if you live in another country. At some stage in the life of farm animals worldwide, there is a cost to the well-being of the animals, to the environment, and to human health. Wherever there is suffering or cruelty in the world, we have a responsibility to do all that is in our power to bring about an end to that suffering. Not buying or consuming animal products will do just that.

Everyone who has watched "Eating" with us has left our house vowing to eat a plant-based diet. Watch this film! It will change your life. The bottom line is that, for the greater good, our children's health, our health, and the future of our planet, we need to make some sacrifices and live more simply and purely.

Adopting a vegan lifestyle is an extremely powerful way to halt the escalating violence and environmental destruction we see around us, thus creating the safe and beautiful world we, as conscious beings, envision.

More reasons to boycott meat and dairy products: Consumption of dairy products (by any animal other than a calf) is unnatural Humans are the only animal to routinely drink the milk of another animal. Furthermore, cow's milk holds the genetic blueprint to make a calf grow from an average 80 pounds (33 kilograms) at birth to being fully grown and 1,600 pounds (726 kilograms) in two years-a twenty-fold increase in weight, as compared to the average human baby's three-fold increase in weight in the first two years. Cow's milk becomes the fuel for massive weight gain for anyone who drinks it (amplified even more so because the cows are given growth hormones to increase milk production to astronomical levels). Milk is "liquid meat"-3 glasses of milk have the same cholesterol as 20 slices of bacon. Is it any wonder that countries which consume the most dairy products have the highest rates of obesity and osteoporosis? The public has been hoodwinked by the all-powerful meat and dairy industry (which also built the old and newest FDA food pyramids, by the way) to falsely believe that osteoporosis is caused by a deficiency in milk consumption, when it is actually caused by physical inactivity (and scientifically proven in the film Eating) making it odd for the country with the highest dairy consumption to also have the highest level of osteoporosis. www.milksucks.comand www.notmilk.com. The countries with the most sedentary lifestyles are the ones with the highest levels of osteoporosis.

Humans are also the only animals that routinely drink milk after they are weaned. It is for this reason that, usually before the age of twenty, the human pancreas very naturally stops producing the enzyme lactase, which breaks down lactose (found in all dairy products). Thus, there are no "allergies to milk products" or "lactose intolerant" individuals. The human body does not need or want milk after it is weaned-that is by God's and Nature's own design! Again, the dairy industry has created those terms to justify the sale of its product. In point of fact, 75% of the global population cannot consume dairy products without physical pain or digestive problems. Why dairy consumption does not cause (obvious) pain and suffering to everyone is that certain bodies, and cultures, develop a higher tolerance for this abuse (and other abuses) withstood by the body. What all these facts do speak is that dairy products simply do not belong in our bodies!

Becoming a true animal lover
Many people say that they love animals, and they treat their pets like members of their family. The animals raised for human consumption are as intelligent, feeling, and social as domestic animals. A friend of mine watched this film, and said afterwards, "I thought I loved animals, but how could I, if I was eating them and causing them to suffer? Now that I am vegan, I can say that I truly love all animals."

Fear- and anger-inducing hormones in meat
Another more controversial reason for not eating meat arises from the hormones that animals release once they sense danger and their imminent death at the slaughterhouse. Consuming meat full of these hormones makes people more aggressive and fearful. Many spiritual aspirants refuse to eat animal products because the consciousness of the animal at the time of death is locked in its flesh and released once the meat is eaten, which prevents the attainment of higher states of consciousness.

Adopting a Vegan Lifestyle
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a vegan as a strict vegetarian who consumes no animal food or dairy products; also one who abstains from using animal products (such as leather and fur). For our family, and a growing number of others, being vegan is more than just dietary choices. A vegan (cruelty-free) lifestyle embraces all aspects of life, from what we choose to wear, what health and beauty products we use, what we use to clean and furnish our homes, and how we will be entertained.

Animals for clothing and footwear
Leather, wool, silk, feathers, and fur are obtained from animals that suffer. Animals endure all the horrors of factory farming and are often skinned alive. Once you visit www.CowsAreCool.com, www.furisdead.com you will not want to wear animal skins again. There are many humane (and fashionable) alternatives to clothing and footwear derived from animals.

Animal experimentation
Most pharmaceuticals, beauty products, and household cleaning products are tested on animals. Most experiments involve slow, agonizing deaths. Animals, including primates, dogs, cats, rabbits, and mice, are routinely dissected while alive, injected with poisonous products, burnt, frozen, drugged, shocked, and kept isolated for years in barren, metal cages. The irony is that, due to the differences between humans and the animal species being tested, the results are rarely useful. It is estimated that 115 million
animals are experimented on and killed in the U.S. every year (www.stopanimaltests.com). We choose products that are labeled "Not tested on animals."

Animals for entertainment
During the time that circus animals are not performing, they are caged or confined. Physical abuse is widespread, and animal training is based on fear and punishment. See www.Circuses.comand www.CircusWatch.com. The footage saw convinced me never to go to an animal circus again.

What we see in zoos are animals held captive in confined spaces, out of their natural habitats, often behaving in neurotic ways. Is this really the best way for us develop an appreciation for "wildlife?" Perhaps it would be better (for the animals, at least) to watch documentaries, read books, or respectfully observe the animals in their native and wild habitats.

Animals are not ours to eat, to wear, to experiment on, to use for entertainment, or to exploit. - People for Ethical treatment of Animals (PETA)

So what can you do?
Inform yourself. Watch documentaries such as "Eating," "Peaceable Kingdom," and "Meet your Meat," or any of the hundreds available on-line at www.PETA.org. See for yourself what life and death is really like for animals that are eaten, milked, experimented upon, and exploited in other ways. Use the Internet and do lots of research. There is much to learn. We are avid readers of labels. We have to be vigilant, as many products contain not-so-obvious animal products, such as whey, rennet (obtained from the stomach lining of dead, milk-fed calves), and casein. We ask lots of questions at restaurants and always let them know we do not want any animal products in our meals (including soup stocks). We are constantly looking for ways to eliminate products and activities which cause animals to suffer. There are always more choices and actions we can take to end cruelty to animals; only some of the most obvious things are mentioned herein.

Everything matters. We are responsible for every cell of Creation. Because we are an extension of God, we do not have the right to put anything into Creation, outside of pure love. - Avatar Louix Dor Dempriey

Inform your children using age-appropriate methods. If your child is still young, simply stop feeding him/her animal products, and provide a simple explanation. PETA has age- appropriate books and literature which you may find useful. Host a screening of one of the recommended videos to older children and other adults in your life.

Be prepared for less-than-supportive reactions from people. Many people are reluctant to change their ways. It is important not to judge people for their choices. Choose your reactions carefully. Some people will justify their consumption of animal products by telling you that it is cruel to eat plants, too. Our teeth are those of a herbivore. And, while plants are, indeed, alive, (unlike animals) they are here on Earth to nourish humans.

Have fun! A vegan diet can be wonderful, nurturing, fun, and tasty. As with any change you make in your beliefs, the Universe will align to support your new way of being. Some effort may be initially required to experiment with new tastes and find new recipes, source alternative products, find restaurants that serve food you can eat and enjoy, and to let go of desires and cravings for animal products. Before traveling, we do a web search of vegan or vegetarian restaurants in the areas we are visiting, so that we know where we can dine out. I also make it a point to inform teachers and parents of children's friends, and I always send along vegan alternatives to events. All these situations provide me with an opportunity to explain why it is that we choose to eat plant-based foods.

There are many fabulous recipe books which can help to bring out the vegan chef in you. Check under Vegetarian/Vegan titles in bookshops and libraries, remembering that you can always adapt recipes by using alternatives to dairy products, eggs, and honey. Instead of butter, we use Earth Balance, a delicious, butter-like spread made mostly from olive oil, palm fruit oil, and soybean oil. Extra virgin olive oil and coconut oil are excellent substitutes for butter. We drink rice milk, almond milk, and oat milk. (We
limit our soy intake, as studies show that it is not healthy in large amounts (see Mothering, Issue 124, May/June, 2004). We use an egg substitute, made primarily from potato starch and tapioca flour, which works very well in baking. There is a vast array of natural sweeteners, including raw cane sugar, agave nectar, stevia, molasses, and real maple syrup, to name a few. Meat substitutes include tofu (soy curd), tempeh (fermented soy bean), seitan (wheat protein), and textured vegetable protein.

Becoming vegan is an ongoing process of refinement. We are still learning and expanding our consciousness. For example, while in Mexico recently, I swam with dolphin at a Dolphin Encounter (the dolphin are in an enclosure by the sea), which claimed to be conducting research and not training the dolphin to perform tricks. Never again! Perform they did, and, while it was magical to be able to touch the dolphin, I know now they should not be held in captivity, and encounters should take place in the wild (See www.DolphinFreedom.com).

Become an activist. Organise a public screening of "Eating," "Peaceable Kingdom," or another similarly powerful documentary. Many of the websites listed below include details of animal rights campaigns which you can support in the way you feel most comfortable (e-mailing letters or handing out flyers, for example). Create opportunities to speak to groups. The vegan way of life is the way of the future. It is not a fringe movement or a passing phase. This planet can no longer sustain the rising demand for animal products. Resources are being decimated and our quality of life is being compromised. The change to a vegan diet is necessary and inevitable. Above all, the most powerful thing you can do is to become an example then share this blessing with others.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

One morning a few weeks ago, I sat in my daughter's fourth grade class as each child shared a poem, complete with props and audience participation. Ela Rose took the stage, carrying a large, silver platter on which sat a large, pink papier-mache pig she had made. She also held a toy duck and a large, orange, toy fish. She recited a poem by Shel Silverstein, entitled "Point of View." The poem is a poignant reminder to all that traditional feasts such as Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter, (and, in fact, any meals which include meat) are not so joyous from the viewpoint of the bird or beast that is being served.

I sat crying, beholding my beautiful daughter, who, at ten years old, truly understands what it means to be kind and loving to every living creature. She is already finding ways to teach what she knows in her heart to be true and to lead the way for others, so that they may find more love and peace in their lives. It is my sincerest prayer that all life on Earth be held as sacred; that all people and species live together in peace and harmony; and that, with the grace of God, and the benevolence of Mother Earth, we are able to live in Paradise-the Divine Plan. - Cosibella Cristenas

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