A path to Inner peace and optimism – without ignorance

DSC_0137

There is a widespread misconception that evolution has made us selfish.  In fact even Darwin himself did not see it that way and it is now widely understood that cooperation and compassion are natural human traits. Our society dupes us into believing otherwise which helps us justify making harmful choices which lead to inner conflict and long term dissatisfaction.

The power of compassion is well known but the messages we receive almost from birth lead us to reject our natural instincts.  Our innate instinct for compassion is not something we can switch off or be selective about without serious personal ramifications.  Natural compassion will extend to all people and all sentient beings.  Anything else creates disharmony and discontent. We can fix this simply with self-awareness and acting accordingly.  The following is a relevant story from my own journey.

11 years ago my wife and I both had jobs in the CBD of Sydney. The daily walk home to Coogee had become a routine.  One day we came across a white rabbit beside a very busy Sydney road. As we approached, she ran away and hid in the roots of a large oak tree so we continued our walk home. We knew nothing at all about rabbits but we knew that she would not survive long there so we decided to return with some carrots and a small cage to attempt a rescue.  The rescue was successful and she lived out the rest of her life in our house, with our two cats. For six years we cared for her through sickness and health and in return we received copious amounts of joy and laughter.  At the end we had to make the heartbreaking decision to put her to sleep.  I now recognize this was an important experience on the road to living in harmony with my human nature.

Shortly after this I became motivated to take a deeper interest in the state of the earth.  I quickly learned that life on earth was being recklessly destroyed by human activity. This in turn led to more learning about animal agriculture and a decision to stop eating meat, and then later all animal products.  These sorts of decisions based on natural compassion felt right and kept me on the path towards inner peace and contentment.

I was learning more and more shocking realities but at the same time I was finding real happiness.  I am now at the point of feeling more optimism and energy than at any time since my childhood. I credit this to my willingness to face reality and to fostering my natural compassion.

So I learned that we humans are causing unprecedented destruction that will before long lead to the earth becoming uninhabitable for most species, including our own.  Three such examples of this, each a catastrophe in its own right, are the decimation of the oceans, species extinction and climate change.  I will elaborate further on species extinction but first a quick pause for some more optimism.

There is a realistic, practical solution to all of these man-made catastrophes that we can all happily participate in.  All we need to do is become self-aware and take steps to allow our true compassionate nature to flourish.  More on this below.

Here are a few current facts about species extinction:

  • We lose 150 – 200 species per day. That’s 1000 to 10,000 times the natural rate.
  • The rate is predicted to snowball.
  • At the current rate we will lose 30% of our species by 2050.
  • With the current direction, before long most life including human life will no long be able to live on earth.
  • Animal agriculture is the main driver of species extinction.
  • We grow enough food today to feed 10 billion people yet we fail to feed 7 billion. One big problem is a huge proportion of our crops directed to animals grown for meat.

Human civilization is now dominated by faceless, heartless corporations.  It is best for them if we remain dissatisfied and continually looking for a remedy, usually in the form of one of their products.  So, brilliant multimillion dollar marketing campaigns are aimed at keeping us wanting more which is often in complete conflict with our nature.

The most shocking example of this is the huge animal exploitation industries like seafood, meat, eggs and dairy.  Together they systematically abuse and slaughter 70 billion very young land animals and more than 1 trillion fish annually.  It is not just the vast scale of this cruelty and violence but also the huge disproportionate destruction to the environment.  Consider that a plant based diet requires 29 times less land than a standard meat based diet or that some studies suggest our oceans will be dead by 2050.  As long as we buy their products we support the cruelty and harm which conflicts with our natural compassion.  We pay a very heavy price.

There are now healthy food alternatives readily available so why do naturally compassionate people support these industries?  At least part of the answer is we have been duped.  With every purchase we deny our nature and our power is taken from us.

I will finish with these positive ideas.

DSC_0018

Adopting a vegan lifestyle is not the answer on its own.  It is just a natural human response in today’s world. It is not just for animal lovers or haters of violence and injustice. It is for every rational person who wants to be compassionate, and would like to enjoy inner peace, empowerment, and great health. The decision to be vegan stops our support for this unnecessary violence and destruction.  It also gives us back our power and enlightens us. This leads to contentment but what is really exciting is this natural way of being is contagious.

For more information, check out our web site www.eversanctuary.org.

Rick – EVER


How Meditation changed my life.

DSC_0206
Science and logic was always my thing. I loved the book, “the Selfish Gene” by Richard Dawkins. It reinforced my view that life and its meaning can be explained by science. Also, no doubt it helped me feel ok about living what was largely a selfish life. Dawkins was able to explain in a language I understood, how all examples of altruism in nature are derived from a selfish underlying drive from our innate genetic makeup. I felt liberated and validated by this

The day I decided to go vegan was a step into the unknown for me. Leading up to this day, I had started to question everything and think for myself. A new real liberation was beginning. Going vegan was a big whole life decision. It was based on a concern for the well-being of others, who would never be able to thank me. There was nothing selfish about the decision other than to say that I would feel more comfortable not supporting the violence and cruelty inherently part of the production of meat, dairy and eggs. The fact that I was able to make such a decision, was a critical moment in my life.

The decision opened my mind to the possibility that true altruism is a natural and hugely important human behavior. I have since noticed how this is somewhat smothered by our society, or more to the point, the media. This change in my life was quite mind blowing. It was a bit like I had been blind all my life and then opened my eyes for the first time. Truly it was nothing like I had ever imagined but I knew now that all my previous ideas needed to be questioned. How was I going to cope?

DSC_0143

Spirituality was never really my thing but I decided I needed to open my mind to help me cope with my new vision and avoid being led astray again. It seems it is a natural path, when you start to question things and look for answers where the media and cold science has failed. The easiest path growing up was to remain blind and just to agree with what I was being told. Like most boys, I wanted to be like my dad and so dived into science and chemical engineering. All seemed to be well. The day my eyes opened, it dawned on me that in this wonderful world, the earth was rapidly dying, and it was standard human activity that was the cause. The penny really dropped hard when the cold cruelty of industrial farming and slaughterhouses sneaked through my filters. There I was thinking all was well and most people were fundamentally good, suddenly realizing that we were all actively participating in this mammoth atrocity directed at all life on earth. Many would say I am being too negative and melodramatic and I understand why they don’t want to hear this. But the numbers and facts don’t lie. I have chosen to face the truth, and not bury my head in the sand. The big question was, how can I face reality when reality includes horror and cruelty on an unimaginable scale? The story gets much more optimistic and better from here when I found meditation.

DSC_0304

So, my interest in meditation grew and I made the decision to register at the 10 day Vipassana. This is a meditation course in the blue mountains west of Sydney and is run all around the world. I highly recommend it for anyone who is ready. A few words of warning, it’s not what I would describe as a fun 10 days. In fact, it was probably the hardest I have ever worked on anything in my life. It is a silent course. For 10 days there was no chatting (or even acknowledging others), no reading, no phones, TV etc. There was a 4am wakeup call every morning and we received daily instruction along with about 10 hours of meditation. Also for vegans, be aware they serve some dairy products, (which in my view is a complete hypocrisy for a place that speaks sincerely of compassion for all beings). There were two full meals per day, including delicious basic vegan food, and for dinner you would get two pieces of fruit. Yes, it’s a drastic course but the stakes are high and I am so glad I did it.

DSC_0295

I did the course 4 months ago. I now use the meditation practice daily. It fits in perfectly with my new approach to life and desire to face the truth. The more I work on this practice the more positive results I get. The meditation gives me a greater understanding of who I am, and helps me let go of what is out of my control and so focus on what I can change. I am now more comfortable with myself and facing the truth, which is an essential part of inner peace and making a difference……and… having fun is again possible, and I think essential.

DSC_0157

Rick – EVER


Reaching athletic goals with plant-power!

athelet1Elite athletes choose their own goals. They know what they want and they work very hard to get there. They constantly push their boundaries, follow strict training and diet plans und certainly don’t want to take any risk that might be a threat their goals. What an incredible mindset!

I am by far not an elite athlete. But I can say that I admire this mindset and that I experienced a very focused mindset when I was training for my first half-marathon in Melbourne in 2014. I also followed a straight training and diet plan (I was a vegetarian back then) and was dedicated to reach my goal: to run 21.1km in less than 2 h and 15 mins (note: I made it in 2h 2 mins – yay!). Exactly 2 weeks and 2 days before the day of the Melbourne Marathon I became a vegan. You might wonder if this was a wise decision: to change your diet just before a big sports event like this. But I had no other choice. Some circumstances brought me together with some inspiring vegans. I learned facts about the dairy and egg industry and the choice was easy: I did not want to support this industry with my diet any longer.

The really good news was: I was by far not alone! Once I made the decision and looked for more information, I found many (professional!) vegan athletes who explained in interviews or on their websites how a vegan diet changed their lives. You can read inspiring stories about the difference they experienced once they changed their diet to a vegan diet. An enhanced athletic recovery and higher sense of well-being are two commonly mentioned physical improvements. Some, such as Scott Jurek, a vegan ultramarathon runner, mentioned that he acheived a higher performance. Rich Roll, a vegan Ultra- Athlete, is another inspiring story. He turned around his life at the age of 40 after being overweight and living an unhealthy life up to that point. Another example of plant-power is Patrick Baboumian, a German vegan strongman who has broken the world log lift record for athletes weighing under 105kg with a 190kg lift. Or NBA basketball player Ben Gordon, German soccer player Marco Sailer, etc. you name it! You only have to google ‘vegan athletes’ and you will be surprised how many you will find (and they in such an incredible shape)!

athelet2

If I learned something in my own journey of becoming a vegan half-marathon runner (non-professional of course): First, give your body some time to adapt to the new diet. As mentioned above, I had no other choice to become a vegan – even if it was 2 weeks prior to my first half marathon. However, I realised as well that my body needed at least 10 days to get used to the new diet while continuing with my daily running training. Second, prepare yourself with enough information about the vegan diet as well as stories about vegan athletes that will inspire you. There is a lot of information out there. This will not only help you to know exactly what to eat and to stay motivated. It will also help you to respond easily to questions from sceptics. My personal ‘superfood favourite’ while I was training for my first half-marathon were green smoothies and my vegan athletic ‘heroe’; well, I actually don’t have a favourite. But I always love to tell that the strongest man in Germany is a vegan. Third, even if you don’t train for a special event, but you enjoy regular exercise, surround yourself with other sporty vegans, such as ‘The No Meat Athlete’ or ‘Laufen gegen Leiden’ (in Germany). You can find such groups in many of the big cities and there is nothing more inspiring than training with other vegans. Lastly, as far as for me, becoming a vegan is still the best decision that I made and I still love the feeling when I reach the finishing line after 21.2 km without having negotiated my values (and I can look forward to a speedy athletic recovery)!

Tanja at the half marathon finish line - Melbourne 2014
Tanja at the 1/2 marathon finish line-Melbourne 2014

Tanja – EVER

 


A short story from the near future

loser

“Hey Phil, don’t forget Saturday night dinner with James and Bec”, Angie yells on her way out the door. “You better contact the restaurant today if you insist on having your special meal”.

“Damn her” I mumble under my breath. As if eating out is not hassle enough, without her never ending digs at my food choices. “I’ve already called them”, I yell impatiently. “They said it’s fine and the “cold room” is available”. “Oh great”, Ange sighs as she drives off to work.

They call it the cold room because it’s a cold drafty room.  According to polls, seeing and smelling animal body parts while eating is offensive to more than 80% of people. Also it is now required by law that meat must only be served  in a separate specially ventilated area.  Adding insult to injury is the 25% harm tax on all animal products, which is shared between animal sanctuaries and environmental groups.

Luckily most of my friends politely accept the imposition of dining with a meat eater, although I still have to deal with the routine questions like, “why are you still eating animals” and how are your arteries holding up?” My parents still remember the days when society shunned those who refused to eat  animal products. They called them “vegans”. Those were the days.  Maybe I was just born too late.

 


Invisible Inferno

Invisible Inferno

One day I woke up and found myself living in a different world. It was the day after I became vegan.

The streets looked different. Restaurants bustling with happy people made me feel isolated. Cafe counters chocked full of Dairy Farmer’s bottles conjured visions of beautiful cows with sorrowful eyes. Dogs on morning walks made me start to think about how many dead animals it takes to keep our pets alive. People looked the same, but also different. I never knew what I was contributing to. I wondered, did they?

The thing about becoming vegan, it is not comparable to deciding that you love a certain style of artwork and so ask a friend to join you at an exhibition. It’s not a preference. It’s excluding yourself from a system that contributes to mass suffering. It’s remembering those who are forgotten. It’s looking at all life forms and actually seeing life. And immediately you hope everyone else will see the same. But they don’t. It’s as if you are standing outside a burning building, hearing screams & cries from the inside, and while you frantically look for water and try to help, countless people just walk past. Some are vaguely aware of the flames, some seem to hear the cries, but most are oblivious to the fire completely. You think, how is that possible? Or is there something wrong with me?

Life goes on. Familiarity with the new world gradually sets in. Despair doesn’t subside until you become part of the solution, and you realise being vegan is the least we can do for our animal kin. You figure out that you can be of more benefit to others when you grow within yourself. Family, friends, anyone who is not vegan – it helps to interact with them with the same compassion that brought you to this point. Easier said than done – the horror in your head is mind numbing; but what is life anyway? Perhaps it has something to do with understanding, peace, and love without exception. But also forging new ways, with new people, is almost inevitable on this path.

Time passes, and sadly the building is still alight and the cries as loud as ever. But now you see kind faces at your side, feel a newfound stability within yourself, and have hope each day for this peace-filled emerging world. And thankfully, some have already been saved from the flames.

—-

Tanya S

 


Meat and the Environment

IMG_4735

 

When I first heard about global warming, like most of us in Australia, my personal footprint was astronomical.

Here in Australia, we are each disproportionately large contributors to this developing global catastrophe.  This realization was a big kick in the face for me and enough to drive anyone to drugs, alcohol and other emotional consumption. This response of course just makes the problem worse and feeds the shame. For me, the decent way to react to this is to have a serious think about it and the ways I stop being an environmental vandal.  This is a bit of a minefield.
Trying to zoom in on the big areas and the obvious issues seemed the best approach.  For example, when I needed a car, fuel economy and emissions were primary purchase considerations.  I installed solar panels on the roof as I had a good north facing roof ideal for this.  Other things like recycling, not wasting water, choosing environmentally friendly products, growing as much food as possible and thinking twice about unnecessary consumption were all sensible ideas.

There are many other considerations but meat consumption is huge and has now achieved the elephant in the room status.

 

IMG_4737
The excuse of not knowing the environmental consequences of meat has lost its validity. Short of science deniers, the impacts of meat are now  well-known facts.   The 2008 United Nations report found that animal agriculture produces more greenhouse gases than the entire transport sector.  Later the report by Worldwatch suggested the UN report underestimated the impact and that at least 51% of all man made greenhouse gases come from animal agriculture. Another sobering reminder of this is the finding from a life cycle study on various foods that 1kg of lamb results in 40 times the emissions of 1kg of lentils.
Some people still try to justify their meat eating with the suggestion that vegan agriculture would require more crops and so do more harm.  In fact the complete opposite is true.  For example approximately 80% of the soy crops grown globally are fed to animals. In other words, meat consumption is a major disproportionate driver of the increase in land clearing, either for the massive amount of crops needed to feed the animals or to make way for pasture for animal grazing. This is only part of why meat has such a major impact on our environment.  To read more, check out our website link on meat and the environment.
The fact is that anyone genuinely concerned about global warming should give up eating meat. It’s not that hard and all the science says this is a very healthy thing to do.

 


Why this Australian Male decided to be vegan.

Rosie
Rosie resident at EVER sanctuary

Exactly three years ago, my wife Reem and I independently decided to go vegan.  Prior to that I was a vegetarian for 7 years which means I have now been meat free for10 years. I thought this was an appropriate time to reflect on a roller coaster ride.

While I did a lot of work and thinking prior, I still look back at the day I went vegan as the day I got serious about trying to make a difference in the world. Leading up to this decision I had done a lot of soul searching and work on myself, which looking back on it, made the decision inevitable.

I explored the idea of selfishness and how it was such a powerful driver of my choices.  I understood it is an essential part of us all but also that it drives the behaviours that are so profoundly destructive.  I came to realize that I could never be satisfied without deep and serious consideration to the harm my choices cause.

Looking back many years, it was learning about climate change that probably got me started. At the time I was a meat eating Aussie, living the dream.   I learned enough to be seriously concerned about the future and to be overwhelmed with a helpless guilty feeling.  The guilt came from knowing the implications that out of all the species on earth and all the humans, and all the countries, my contribution was huge. Seeing that some others around me were worse than me was not comforting.  I decided being an apathetic bystander was a scenario I could not live with.  The natural response was to at very least try my best to be an example and act responsibly.  This led me to the idea of considering the impact of my choices on the earth and the suffering caused. For the first time I had a powerful desire to control my desires for short term gratification if there were negative implications for others.

At this stage I was already vegetarian and then I was given an education on animal agriculture. We were at a fundraiser for an animal sanctuary and they showed a few videos of practices in a range of animal exploitation industries, including dairy and eggs.  There was also information shared about environmental effects and some nutritional facts.   I immediately decided that veganism, and hopefully beyond veganism, was an essential path for me.

Since then, I have spent a lot of time educating myself and looking at all the arguments put to me against veganism. While many of these arguments are wishful thinking some have validity on the surface.  One point often made is that veganism cannot claim to cause zero harm.  Any serious reader in the area knows this is true. Zero harm towards other humans, animals and the wider environment is not a realistic goal. This is particularly true of those of us living in western countries.   Simply building a house, or driving a car is harmful.  The argument gets off the rails when this fact is used to justify very harmful activities.

One example we often hear is that growing food crops causes harm in many ways. This is true.  The question is what does this mean for veganism?  Turns out it actually reinforces veganism as the right and least harmful choice. Exploited animals must be fed, and this requires much more crops than if we live directly on crops, as vegans do. This is an unavoidable fact of nature which is explained in detail on our website (earth tab).   So, first we must accept that perfection is impossible and then commit to the realistic goal of harm minimization.

So after three years of reading, learning and living vegan, I am convinced I thrive on a vegan diet (as expected according to the leading nutritional bodies around the world), and short of  obscure impractical ideas like dumpster diving, there appears to be nothing that comes close to veganism on the harm minimization scale.

IMG_4496
Rick and Salsa
IMG_4514
Salsa, Bobbie, Rosie

50 % of all cafeterias in German universities now offer vegetarian or vegan food

What a breakthrough! If you are a student at a German university and you are vegan or vegetarian there are some great news: 50 % of all cafeterias at German universities offer now vegan or vegetarian food.

This breakthrough has been kicked-off by a German NGO (Albert Schweitzer Stiftung) which has promoted since 2009 vegan food in cafeterias across Germany, in close collaboration with the student unions. At the start it was only an offer to provide vegan cooking training to cafeteria managers at German universities (by the German vegan chef Björn Moschinski). The idea expanded to other university cafeterias and as we can see today, half of all cafeterias in Germany provide vegetarian or vegan food.

As we know from surveys, the majority of vegetarians and vegans are female, young (up to 29 years old) and highly educated. Thus, you might find many of them at universities and consequently, there is a need for vegan food in university cafeterias. Another outcome of this project was a guideline* for cafeteria kitchens that want to cook vegan food on a large-scale. I am so pleased to see this development and hope that more universities realise the increasing need to offer vegan options in their cafeterias.

Tanja, EVER

vegan food

©Einfach-schnell-und-gesund

 

*The guideline is currently available in German. But you might get some more information about it if you get in touch with the Albert Schweitzer Stiftung


Are vegans misanthropic?

A recent survey in Germany made me wonder. The question of the survey was: Are Vegans misanthropic?* and it was undertaken with 707 vegans in Germany (445 women, 257 men and 5 transsexuals) between 16 and 84 years old.

Not to my surprise, the results showed that the misanthropic vegan is a cliché and that vegans actually care a lot about their fellow human beings. More than 90% of vegans mentioned that they care about social justice, equality for handicapped and sick people, equality for gay and bisexuals, care about overcoming racism and anti-Semitism, care about gender equality and environmental conservation and are against the exploitation of third world countries. Nearly 90 % mentioned that it is critical to provide support to refugees. Although there was no control group with non-vegans to understand if vegans are more philanthropic than non-vegans, the survey still tells us a story: vegans care a lot about their fellow human beings.

Maggie and Ted. Farm Sanctuary, New York, USA, 2015. Credited to Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals

After reading the results of this survey, I wondered, where does this cliché come from? I certainly love my fellow human beings and would consider myself a philanthropic. However, as vegans we might often hear the criticism that we think that we are morally superior to meat-eating people or that we are ‚too complicated‘ when it comes to shared meals in family or friends gatherings. As we question the norm in our world where consuming animal products are taken for granted, can this be a defense mechanism of non-vegans to judge us as misanthropic?

What do you think where this cliché comes from? And do you think it would help the vegan movement to disprove this cliché? I’d be very interested to hear your thoughts about this topic.

*The survey was done by www.vegan.eu and www.gleichklang.de.


Germany – a great place to be a vegan

There are nearly 1 Million vegans in Germany and their numbers are growing. No wonder that the variety of vegan products in the supermarkets, number of vegan restaurants, vegan festivals, vegan chefs and vegan cook books are also increasing.

A legally binding definition of the term “vegan” was suggested in April 2016 in Germany. Vegan products should not involve any hidden animal product at any stage of the production or processing. This involves also that no ingredients (including additives, carriers, flavourings and enzymes) or processing aids are allowed to be of animal origin (source: VEBU Germany).

This definition can be already found in the “vegan” label of the European Vegetarian Union (EVU) in Germany. As soon as a product is now labelled with this logo “vegan” in Germany (Fig. 1 – logo on the left) it is truly 100 % vegan! This is supposed to make the life of many vegans who live in or travel to Germany much easier given that some vegan labels (especially if food producers use their own vegan labels) could still “hide” some animal product. Whether in the production, processing or product itself.

 

vegan and vegetarian logos_Germany
Fig 1:  vegan and vegetarian logos_Germany

 

Figure 1: The logo on the left means 100 % vegan; the logo on the right means vegetarian (ingredients such as milk, egg and honey are allowed).

The “vegan” label should not be mistaken with the label “vegetarisch” (englisch: vegetarian) on the right (Fig. 1) given that products with this label can include ingredients such as milk, egg and honey.

Another exciting item of news from Germany is that, commencing in October 2016, a 3 year long Bachelor degree in Vegan Food management will be launched. This 3-4 years long course provides expert knowledge and skills in veganism, economy, management as well as communication strategies and is a preparation to work as a manager or specialist in the vegan food business (http://www.fh-mittelstand.de/vegan/)
There are definitely exciting times ahead for vegans in Germany!

Tanja, EVER