On six years of sobriety: living moment by moment with the dark, bottomless thirst for oblivion

glass of water

I sit opposite my dining companion, me with my glass of water, she with her single glass of wine. I enjoy the company, I enjoy the meal, I enjoy my water; however, the whole time – sometimes more strongly, sometimes less, but always – there is this thought in the back of my mind.

Why on earth would you do that? Why on earth would anyone drink one glass of wine? Why would you not by now be on to the second glass, the third, the fourth; why would you not already be ordering the second bottle, and indeed contemplating the whiskeys to follow?

This is a consistent thing whenever I am in the company of a “healthy drinker”, one who is happy to have “just the one”. It is one of the big things that reminds me why I do not drink alcohol, why I am today six years sober. It indicates very clearly that deep inside the dark, bottomless thirst for oblivion still remains in me.

I am less inclined these days to throw the term “recovering alcoholic” around, although that is indeed one of the things I am. My path is the path of trying to see who I am from moment to moment, of trying to emerge from the grooves – of behaviour, of thought – into which I constantly fall. So self definitions seem slightly at odds with the project.

Of course, as someone still grubbing in the lowest muds of the path, this business of escaping the bonds of patterning is more an intention than a reality. For now, it helps occasionally – particularly on each January 28 that I am blessed to mark as another year of sobriety – to remember where I have come from. To remind myself that I am a recovering alcoholic, grateful to be sober, one moment at a time.

‘We’ve all been fed lies about the necessity of consuming dairy and meat when the truth is it does us harm’

Everyday Vegans
An occasional series in which ordinary people
talk about living a plant-based life


UK music teacher Jenny, our latest contributor, explains how she ended up treating herself to becoming a vegan for her 40th birthday and why she is committed for life

Vegan Jenny with her kids

I’m 52 and I live with my three children and my second ex-husband. My eldest has been influenced by my first husband’s family and sadly wants to eat meat. He buys his own food and I sometimes put his choice of food in the oven for him. My younger two are both vegetarian but I would be happier if they were vegan. My second ex is vegan but doesn’t insist his children are. I mainly buy them vegan food but occasionally buy them Quorn products.

I’m a part-time piano teacher and accompanist, mainly in a fee-paying school.

I went through a very gradual transition to being vegan. When I was at college one of my friends was vegan which did have an effect on me. However, I didn’t think she looked that healthy, so sadly I assumed she was missing out on foods she needed. I hated the idea of eating animal flesh but I truly believed that we had to do so in order to stay healthy.

From my late twenties I began by giving up red meat, then white meat, then fish. My first husband was happy to have veggie mince for some meals as his mum liked veggie food. When we split up in my mid-thirties, I picked up some Viva leaflets at my local Sainsbury’s supermarket and from them realised I didn’t have to have dairy and eggs to be in good physical shape. I went along to some Veggie Essex meetings and decided to go vegan for my 40th birthday.

I then met my second husband through a veggie friend’s website and he went vegan soon after me.

Although I used to like the taste of meat; I would never go back to eating it. For me, it’s a no-brainer being vegan:

  • I love animals and wouldn’t want to cause them to suffer just for my taste-buds;
  • It’s better for my health; and
  • It’s much more environmentally friendly.

I’ve been vegan now for around 14 years and it’s never been easier.

We went on to have two children, who were both breastfed for over two years. They are careful not to accept sweets with gelatine but at the moment can’t resist milk chocolate, pizza and Quorn. My daughter likes to eat school dinners with her friends but unfortunately the veggie option is rarely vegan.

I shop in my local Sainsbury’s or Tesco store. I sometimes have takeaway chips or Chinese food due to a very busy schedule. My 12-year-old likes to cook vegan food at the weekend and he’s adapted all his school cookery lesson ingredients to be vegan so I can eat them.

As an ‘eat to live’ kind of person rather than a ‘live to eat’ person, I’m not terribly worried about my protein levels as I have soya, nuts, vegan cheese etc and I think I’m strong and fit most of the time. I eat fairly simple food like porridge with oat milk, muesli, toast and marmite, sandwiches or salad at my school for lunch, fresh fruit and lots of jacket potatoes with fresh veg and sometimes a Linda McCartney pie or sausage etc.

I’m always pleased when I meet other vegans as it makes me feel saner to know that others think like me. I have joined vegan Facebook groups and attend vegan fairs and talks when I can. I’ve also joined a vegan pen pal scheme for the over-50s Continue reading →

A ‘basic’ yoga posture that’s anything but (and why you should listen to your body rather than your teacher)

Reversed Warrior yoga posture

For all we know, the guy in this photograph is pictured at the very moment of enlightenment, uniting with the wider cosmos via his body. So it goes without saying that there is nothing wrong with what he is doing.

It should be noted, though, that his spine is curved back and to the side at angles way beyond what is considered functional for the human body; similarly his rear leg is extended far beyond natural range, with powerful effects on his hip joint and pelvis. Again, no problem – it’s his body, he can do whatever he wants with it.

What is a problem, however, is that the shape he is producing here is frequently offered in yoga classes as a reasonably standard, basic posture called Reversed Warrior, sprinkled into flowing sequences of poses, or vinyasas, for a bit of variety.

As the teacher – perhaps hypermobile, as many in the yoga game are – arches beautifully into the shape, burbling the instruction “now reverse your Warrior”, mere mortals attempt to do so and swiftly discover the natural limitations of a healthy human spine and hip joint. If this were the point that the posture was being used to demonstrate, that would be a good lesson.

However, the suggestion is more often that if we keep practising our yoga, one day we too will be able to make this shape; this despite the fact that if we were to continue to do so, there’s a reasonable chance that we might never get close – cue potential feelings of inadequacy – and indeed might hurt ourselves somewhere down the road.

But almost worse than the risk of injury, to my mind, is the fact that instead of the practice being a means of exploring what is happening in the body, mind, the universe, right here and now, yoga becomes something that has to chased after, a goal to be achieved in the future, like a mansion, or an expensive car, or £1million in the bank. And the future, as we know, is something that is by no means guaranteed, considering that we do not even know whether we will be alive in a minute’s time.

I am categorically not suggesting that people should stop doing Reversed Warrior, or any number of other modern yoga postures that similarly require joints to be taken far beyond functional range (that for which the body has evolved to be healthy). If this is the kind of yoga you want to do – if making shapes you consider to be aesthetically pleasing is what the practice is all about to you, if striving and goal-setting and achievement are your thing – then by all means go wild.

However, if you simply want to move your body in a functional way, building useful degrees of strength and flexibility while practising the art of being in the present moment – which is what I think yoga is really all about – it is perhaps worth thinking carefully before you start trying to push yourself into positions like this.

(If, by the way, you find positions like this easy to get into, it is probably worth investigating whether you are hypermobile, and how you might adapt what you do for the health of your joints.)

Remember, you do not have to do what any teacher tells you to do – when it comes to your body, they do not know better than you – and if a teacher tries to physically push you into positions like this, remember you absolutely have the power to tell them to back the hell off.

Remember, too, that there is nothing sacred or special about yoga poses – they are mere positions in which to put the body. The postures that are offered in mainstream yoga classes are generally modern, 100-odd years old, and were mainly invented by blokes who knew little about anatomy and who history has often shown to be pretty nasty pieces of work.

This is not to say there is not plenty of value in these poses; they can be excellent body laboratories in which to explore the deeper layers of who you are. But it is important to reinvent them as you will to suit your own body, or to find ones that work better for you. Just make sure they are serving you in a healthy way.

Fortunately, more teachers are coming round to the approach that empowers practitioners rather than the image-based studio industry. A leading figure helping to inspire the process is Alexandria Crow, whose work I particularly recommend if you are a teacher wanting to learn more. I also strongly recommend Peter Blackaby’s book Intelligent Yoga: Listening to the Body’s Innate Wisdom; and if you ever have a spare hour and a quarter, there’s a deeply inspiring talk by Blackaby here.

In my own quiet way, this is the kind of yoga I am trying to teach in my classes in London. If you happen to be near Woodford Green and are interested, please get in touch. Full details on my website.

A note on the photo
The picture with my post was taken from an online repository of open-source stock photos available for anyone to use as they please. I would never pull a picture at random off a yogi’s personal website or social media feeds. I have used this photo under an open-source licence purely as an illustration of a posture as it is often taught and encouraged in yoga classes, not as a comment on the model.

‘The best way to promote veganism is to show how happy and fulfilled you are by not consuming animal products’

Everyday Vegans
An occasional series in which ordinary people
talk about living a plant-based life


US nanny Bethany, the latest contributor to our series, believes veganism is all about love and compassion – and she tries her best to let these qualities in her life speak for the cause

BethanyMy name is Bethany, I’m 26 years old and I live in Charlotte, North Carolina, with my husband Ryan and our four pets. We have three cats – JiJi, Milo, and Sophie – as well as a tortoise named Teva. I currently work as a nanny for an incredible family, and my previous job was as the coordinator for a local nature museum. I’ve lived in the Southern US all my life and have a huge love for stereotypical Southern cuisine (everything deep-fried please). When I’m not working or eating awesome vegan food I enjoy hiking and camping, reading, crafting, and have just started practising yoga.

I went straight from an omnivorous diet to a plant-based one literally overnight. After a lot of thought and deliberation, I made a plan to go vegan on June 1 2016 and from that date onward I have been vegan, with a few minor slip-ups. I was a pescetarian in college for about a year, and had tried a vegetarian diet a few times over the course of the previous few years.

My attempts at eating a meat-free diet were usually spurred on by reading or seeing something related to animal agriculture (reading The Jungle, watching Food Inc) but was usually thwarted by lack of options or self-control. Saying that now sounds like such a cop-out as there are so many vegetarian options compared with vegan ones.

So, as of today, I have been vegan for two years and seven months!

My husband Ryan watched Earthlings in 2015 and he decided to make the change, quite suddenly, to veganism as a result. I was sceptical about it and I really enjoyed non-vegan food so I continued to eat meat and dairy for an entire year before making the switch myself.

It was tough going for Ryan for a while, as I joked about when he’d give up being a vegan, and I didn’t give his dietary concerns much consideration when choosing restaurants.

Over the course of the next year, I ended up making a lot of vegan food and trying out vegan restaurants with him. I started thinking that it might not be as impossible as I previously anticipated. Ryan was never pushy about me eating a plant-based diet, and it was his patience that encouraged me to start doing some of my own research.

I started watching vegan YouTubers who had totally vegan families. They were all incredibly happy and healthy and raved about the benefits of a plant based diet. I also followed a lot of vegan bloggers and listened to podcasts and speeches. All of this definitely contributed to my decision to go vegan, however it wasn’t until I read articles about the atrocities of animal agriculture that knew I had to make the switch.

I don’t believe I would ever be an omnivore again. I’m a big animal lover and having the awareness of the horrors of the animal agriculture industry is what would prevent me from eating animal products again. And, to be honest, the smell of meat cooking or even plain cow’s milk makes me gag now. There are so many plant-based alternatives to animal products that I don’t really miss any of the old foods I used to eat.

I’m definitely not a healthy vegan. I’m an ethical vegan, which means I switched to this lifestyle to protect animals and the environment rather than for health reasons. I absolutely love deep-fried tofu, potatoes, vegan sausage and bacon, bread, and, of course, anything sweet.

I started out my vegan journey trying to recreate all my favourite non-vegan dishes and eating an obscene amount of processed vegan meats and cheeses. However, this diet is not very nutritious, and I was starting to feel sluggish and tired most of the time. So, while I still enjoy all those tasty treats mentioned above in moderation, I’m trying to incorporate more plant-based foods into my diet. I find my skin, digestive health, and even mental health are much better when I eat a more whole food plant-based diet.

I usually drink a protein shake or make oatmeal for breakfast, but will sometimes splurge and eat banana oat pancakes or blueberry waffles. Lunch is usually leftovers, vegetable soup from Amy’s, or a sandwich loaded with veggies and hummus. For dinner my husband and I try to eat something filling but healthy! Our favorite meals to make are harvest bowls (broccoli, sweet potatoes, black beans, and Brussel sprouts over quinoa), chili, barbeque jackfruit, loaded nachos or tacos, and tofu stir fry.

We get most of our groceries for the week at either Trader Joe’s or Publix as they typically have great prices on produce, grains, spices, and other staples. If we need a specialty item, or if I want a smoothie or protein shake on my way to work, I will head over to Whole Foods to pick it up. We do enjoy going to the local farmer’s market from time to time as well.

I don’t really think much any more about where I get my proteins and other specific nutrients from. I did at the very beginning, but it’s become such second nature to me that I don’t really think about it anymore. I know I won’t be satiated unless I eat something with beans, oats, lentils, or tofu in it so I try to make sure I include one those in each meal.

Most people think you have to eat meat or dairy to meet your daily nutritional needs but that just isn’t the case. Most, if not all, nutritional needs can be met with a balanced plant based diet. I do take a few supplements though, as I had critically low vitamin D3. I take a multi-vitamin as well as extra D3 and B12 supplements. I urge everyone whether they are vegan or non-vegan to get their vitamin levels checked.

Being vegan can definitely make you feel like an outsider. I think the hardest part of being plant-based isn’t finding food at restaurants, or going to a party where there’s no vegan food, or even struggling to find decent vegan dairy or meat substitutes at the store; these things are really minor in comparison to the awareness you have being an ethical vegan.

It’s very hard to come to the realisation that many people around you either aren’t aware of the cruelties that animals face, or even worse that they know and don’t care enough to change their lifestyle. Animals suffer a great deal for the fleeting pleasure that humans get eating their flesh or bodily secretions. I was definitely that person who said, “I’ve always grown up eating meat, so I don’t think I could change my diet”, or even, “I’ll just buy from a local farmer and that’ll be fine.”

But so many people don’t realize the horrors of animal agriculture on a small or large scale. Animals are sentient beings capable of feelings of love, joy, and sadness. To kill them for our own enjoyment is absolutely unnecessary.

Animal agriculture is also a major contributing factor to global warming, something which is an issue for my generation Continue reading →

‘I found myself surrounded by good, caring people who were participating in hideous acts of violence’

Everyday Vegans
An occasional series in which ordinary people
talk about living a plant-based life


Argentinian traveller Manu, the latest contributor to our series, sees veganism as the next stage in human evolution and is optimistic about its growth

Manu

My name is Manu, I’m 25-years-old, and I was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Currently, I’m happily settled in Mexico.

I fell in love with the nomadic lifestyle and have been travelling since 2015. I’ve hitched my way up to Mexico and back down to Argentina, only to come back up and stay put for a few years here in Mexico. My wife and I recently purchased an ’87 Volkswagen bus (or Combi) as our first home/vehicle.

I’ve been vegan since early 2015. I never was a vegetarian; I was aware of the horrors of the dairy and egg industries before I went vegan, so, for me, it wasn’t really an option. What led me to a vegan lifestyle was a spiritual growth. I was really into meditation and spirituality at the time – I still am, but I don’t meditate anymore.

I knew veganism was the next step forward towards what I pictured my life to be. As an Argentinian, I was born and bred in a meat culture. I was really into weightlifting before I left home and I’d never heard of the notion of vegan or vegetarian bodybuilders. Chicken and tuna were the diet staples of my gym buddies. Oh, and lots of whey protein.

Really, spirituality aside, it was my love of animals that eventually pushed me into veganism. I say pushed me because, after my experience with the documentary Earthlings, there was absolutely no way I was ever going to eat meat… never again. My love for animals grew massively that day. After you’ve seen for yourself the pain, horror and suffering of these gentle beings, there’s no way your heart won’t expand.

Like I said, I’ll never eat animal products again. Firstly, don’t think it’s healthy at all and these days there’s plenty of evidence to support that claim. Secondly, I don’t see animal products as food anymore. I see dead, decaying flesh, and stuff that comes out of an animal’s ass and tits. To be honest, that doesn’t make me hungry.

Back in my weightlifting days I gained a passion for healthy living. At that point, I wasn’t exactly ‘healthy’ since I was eating so many animal products – but I thought I was. After I went vegan, it all changed. I felt like a new man. My energy levels went up, I slept and looked better, I felt better overall, my mood changed for the positive, and it felt really really good inside not to be directly funding the torture and slaughter of innocent beings.

I still like to keep myself healthy. My wife and I eat mainly a whole-food, plant-based diet, but of course we indulge in unhealthy food every now and then. Mexico has a wide variety of healthy and delicious vegan food. It definitely seems like the most vegan-friendly food culture in Latin America.

Most of our food nowadays comes from local markets. They’re the cheapest places to get food from, and we prefer to support local farmers and shops. We usually avoid packaged foods, although recently we bought two cases of vegan queso from a brand called Heartbest and we absolutely devoured them. It’s been a while since I had a quesadilla with ’actual’ cheese.

To be honest, I don’t count calories or nutrients, especially not protein. There’s protein in fruit; most people don’t know that. There’s protein everywhere, especially in plant foods. I know that if I eat a wide range of veggies, fruits, nuts, seeds and legumes, I’ll be alright for nutrients. And I hardly ever get sick anymore.

Of course, my entire life changed when I went vegan, not only physically, but mentally too. Suddenly, I found myself surrounded by good, caring people who were participating in hideous acts of violence, three times a day. It was shocking.

Most of the time, it became a hard thing to cope with; honestly, it still is. We live in a (mostly) non-vegan world. That means sentient, innocent and harmless beings are being treated as mere commodities, Continue reading →

‘It was not difficult to grasp – if the original, perfect humans could survive just fine on only plants, so could I’

Everyday Vegans
An occasional series in which ordinary people
talk about living a plant-based life


US police dispatcher Liz, the latest contributor to our series, says that, strangely enough, her evangelical Christian upbringing made becoming a vegan perfectly logical

LizMy name is Liz and I work as a police dispatcher in a decently sized county in Maryland, USA. The job is very time consuming (12 hour days, six days a week, constantly working). We get three days off after every six-day shift but I find that the first day off is usually just occupied with recovery. I am essentially useless until about day three of the days off.

I have so many interests that I cannot possibly keep up with them all. I enjoy yoga, horseback riding, running, crocheting, playing piano, clay modelling, hiking, writing, paddle boarding, travelling, and reading; I’m never bored. I’m also constantly getting involved in new things. I’ve tried just about everything there is to try – fencing, rock climbing, Krav Maga scuba diving, acrobatics, etc. If it seems interesting, I’ll do it at least twice.

I’m 30 years old now, about to be 31 in February, and at first I felt super old and as if nothing interesting could happen again, as if I’d have to dress like a super-old person, and I got really depressed there for a while. But then I realised that I still have the same energy I had in my mid-20s but I have more follow-through, more experience and more intelligence. So being 30 is the same as being 26 or 27 but better because you make fewer mistakes (and people take you more seriously). I say all this because I have only recently chosen to become vegan but I feel as if I am better equipped to make this a sustainable lifestyle now than I would have been a few years ago.

I’d messed around with vegetarianism in the past, but I never stuck to it (or anything really). I attempted Whole30 a few years back, but caved as soon as someone put some cheesy crab dip in front of me. After that I sort of floated around until I saw the movie PlantPure Nation and really sort of started thinking about why I eat what I eat.

This next bit might sound a bit absurd to some readers, but I grew up in a Baptist household (my dad is a pastor), and so I was taught the Creation story in my private Christian school. In Genesis, God creates everything perfectly and tells the humans that they can eat any of the plants and vegetables they could possibly want. They don’t need anything else, because God gave them the plants and veggies. He never told them to eat animals – they didn’t need to. It wasn’t until after the Fall (when sin entered the world) that humans were given permission to eat animals.

With this as my background, it was not difficult to grasp the concept that people don’t actually need to eat animals. If the original, perfect, humans could survive just fine on only plants, so could I. There is also the story of Daniel, who refused to eat meat for 60 days and insisted on eating only vegetables. After 60 days they compared him with a bunch of other men and he looked and acted the best.

Honestly, having grown up on these stories, it is difficult for me to understand why more Christians aren’t vegan or at least vegetarian.

So I just decided to go primarily plant based and see what happens. My energy got better, my moods stabilised and my periods are much more bearable. Is it a perfect nirvana now? By no means. But my health is noticeably different from how it was before.
I went totally vegan three months ago, though became mostly wholefood plant-based (WFBD) five months before that.

Having lost a lot of weight from November 2017 to about June 2018, I realised that I could not survive calorie-counting for the rest of my life and needed a method of eating that would sustain my new weight but not make eating a chore. Plant-based wholefoods fitted the bill.

I can’t see myself going back to being an omnivore. Any time I look at meat, I just feel grossed out. It’s so greasy, you are eating so many calories for not a lot of food, and I feel tired after eating meat; Continue reading →

‘People get upset about other cultures eating dogs, yet do not make the link with any other animal flesh’

Everyday Vegans
An occasional series in which ordinary people
talk about living a plant-based life


English chef Amy, the latest contributor to our series, explains how she went from being a meat eater to vegan overnight and what it means to her

Amy

I turned 30 this year; my immediate family is now just my brother and my mum. I was brought up in a very traditional family, in which we sat down at the table for meals, we helped cook, and we helped clear it all away. My dad was of the “meat, veg and bread and butter” generation, so meals were typically traditionally English – pies, oxtail, lamb shanks, etc. And I loved that food.

I also loved learning to cook from my mum, who, ironically, is now and was then a vegetarian. Mum was a vegetarian, however, because she didn’t like the taste of meat, so I never questioned the ethics of eating animals. It was genuinely something that I never came across until the last couple of years.

At 21 I fell into the world of chef-ing quite by accident, and it turned out I was pretty good at it. After my first year I was managing a kitchen, and two years into that I received my accreditation. I loved watching Masterchef, and would get really creative with food on my days off, spending all day making dinner.

Most recently I moved to work at a steakhouse. The induction into the job included visiting a slaughterhouse, the farm our cows are raised at, and the “cutting plant” (basically a massive industrial-scale butchers). I still never questioned it.

We all agreed on leaving the slaughterhouse that “it’s not nice to see, but it’s just the way it is, and at least they were calm and it was over quickly for them”. Writing those words now makes me feel cold.

A few of my friends had already gone vegan, and were sharing things on Facebook: videos of the atrocious conditions animals were being kept in; day-old calves being dragged away from their mothers and the mothers chasing after them; messages of “cows’ milk being for baby cows”; videos of male chicks being thrown live into macerators.

I would see them and it would break my heart, but I would think, “that’s awful but I don’t think what I buy comes from there”. It obviously played on my subconscious because my thoughts started to become, “I  would go vegan if I could, but I really like cheese”. Then I found out about vegan cheeses. I tried them and thought… hmmm they don’t taste the same, but they’re still good!

I don’t know if there was a eureka moment as such but I went from being a meat eater to vegan overnight about four months ago. The more I read about the myths of “free-range”, and about the unnatural animals we have created through selective, intensive and over-breeding the more I knew I had made the right decision. I mean, I wouldn’t treat my dog, or any dog, like that, so why did I think it was right to treat an animal with just as much sentience, intelligence, emotions, any differently? The hypocrisy of getting so outraged at cultures eating dog suddenly became very apparent.

I think I was more shocked at the egg and dairy industry than I was with the meat industry, although I find both as horrific now.

The fact that hens and dairy cows were going through prolonged suffering, and spending their unnaturally short lives being forced to create something they were not designed to produce so much of or so often, and then died so much earlier than they were meant to because their bodies were exhausted, all so we could eat something that we had been brought up to believe we needed, or something we liked the taste of just seemed ludicrous.

Based on the fact I have made this decision on moral grounds – that we cannot warrant causing harm to others, for sensory pleasure – I honestly cannot imagine a reason I would ever go back to being omnivore. When I see meat and dairy now, I just see everything that goes on behind the scenes to produce it.

When I first went vegan, I ate a lot of meat and dairy substitutes, which I think is quite normal when you’ve first made the decision, as you are still looking for the taste of meat. I would have a smoothie everyday with berries, spinach, and chia and flax seeds, just to make sure I was getting those in my diet at the start of my day.

Obviously you become more aware of what you need and where to get it from as you go, and over time I have realised that meat substitutes are not the best thing to live on, although they definitely have their place. I found my body was craving vegetables, and funnily I started to go off the taste of the vegan ‘meats’.

I am now much more into creating meals with vegetables, pulses, nuts, tofu etc. But being a chef at heart, I am big on flavours and textures so it is important these meals pack both of those in big quantities. Creamy, cheesy pastas, rich smoky mushroom and lentil mince, spicy tangy sticky sauces coating vegetables in Chinese steamed buns… I love cooking and eating things like that.

It has been great for me to experiment with flavours and ingredients, as I certainly could not just live on salads and vegetable curries.

That whole journey encouraged me to look at where I get protein, B12, Omegas and other nutrients from. It’s funny that one of the first things that crops up in discussions with non-vegans is a sudden concern for your wellbeing and where you are getting all your nutrients from, and ironic Continue reading →