The Necessity of Compassion

Today in my college public speaking class, I gave a speech on veganism, and how the consumption of meat, dairy, and other animal products is absolutely devastating for the health of our Earth, the animals, and even our own physical health.

I was given feedback that told me to look into “humane animal agriculture.” And while I appreciate the effort to not torture animals, it does not negate the fact that a living, sentient being will ultimately die for someone’s taste buds.

I understand that animal products are engrained in today’s culture. However, its prevalence does not mean that it is ethical or moral; nor does it mean that its existence is justified. Being deemed socially acceptable does not make it correct.

If you apply that logic, it means that all of history is without flaws. It implies that nothing in this world has ever required reform or revolution.

Not too long ago, it was considered universally acceptable to keep slaves, to oppress women, and homosexuals. And while I know these issues are still far from being resolved, I applaud the effort that has been applied to each of these issues. Despite having miles to go, there has been commendable progress.

Just because the issue may never be entirely resolved, nor will the change happen as quickly as we would like, it does not negate the fact that we should not still try.

For if we live life in the shade of stagnancy, we live a life of ignorance. And while hiding from the truth can be more comfortable, it inhibits the opportunity to improve.

Life, as we know it, is a progression. We are meant to strive, to learn, to grow, and to change. Nothing ever remains static.

People tell me not to take resistance to the movement of veganism so personally.

But I do take it personally.

While I cannot fall apart with every obstacle and or whenever someone tells me being vegan is silly, we must acknowledge that despite any of our own personal interests and desires, there will always be fact. The truth will always remain.

Let us be aware that our Earth, our home, is at stake. Sentient creatures are exploited and murdered. The earth needs more compassion, and more empathy. We need to try harder to exhibit behaviors that radiate kindness in all aspects of life, not just in regards to animals, but to people, to all forms of life.

Essentially, we need to have genuine care for things other than our own selves.

Maybe that makes me radical, maybe that makes me too sensitive. But I stand by my beliefs with an unshaken conviction.

And perhaps you think animals are only animals. But once you choose a life of kindness towards the smallest creatures, that kindness manifests into something indiscriminate. You will find that there is kindness in your heart for all beings.

With a mindset that emphasizes love, life will become a game where the cards are not always stacked against us. There will be harmony instead of competition. We will value differences and live with a gentle, underlying sense of content.

I am not saying veganism equates to perfection.

No, rather, I am saying it fosters acceptance. And in that acceptance, we can find faith, even in things unknown. In times of trial, there will be a strong inner peace to push us through. We will almost always fail, but that does not infinitely destroy the opportunity to succeed.

So, do not be complacent. Do not swallow passion or feel ashamed of doing what is humane and right. Have undeniable empathy for others, and do not apologize for intense sensitivity.

To be sensitive is to be aware. Heighten your awareness, and embrace vulnerability as a bridge to progress. And while your efforts might not be rewarded immediately, have patience. There will always be intense gratification in holding strong to your convictions.

 

 

 

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Vegan Life in the UVM Dining Hall

So now that I am a bit more acclimated to college life, I thought I’d let you in on how I navigate the dining halls here at UVM 🙂

First and foremost, I’d like to say that the University of Vermont is one of the most vegan-friendly campuses that I’ve had the pleasure of visiting. A lot of people in Vermont are super into sustainable agriculture, proper nutrition, and staying active.

I am also in a Wellness dorm that encompasses the pillars of fitness, nutrition, and mentorship.

What does that mean for me?

Well, for starters, it means there are a lot of awesome people here! But, it also means that everyone understands the importance of nourishing their body, while also being ethical about doing so.

While not everyone is vegan, the campus is super tolerant of all diets. This includes having allergen-free zones, vegan and vegetarian options, as well as healthy, mindful options for all diets.

UVM is also a proponent of the Real Food Challenge, which means that 20% of the food served is considered to have minimal environmental impacts, is of a local source, and of fair trade. UVM prides itself on being ethical and sustainable in as many outlets as possible.

And, as I’m sure you’re all wondering…how does the food taste?

GOOD!

Living in the Wellness dorm means that I have a dining hall within my building. This specific dining hall offers a variety of mindful options to encourage healthy eating patterns.

Each day there has been a variety of grains, fruits, veggies, tofus, veggie burgers, soups, and oats to satisfy any vegan’s hunger! Here are a few pictures of the foods I’ve been eating:

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Below the abundance of squash, zucchini, beets, and brussels sprouts, is a grain called farro! I tried it for the first time, and it was delicious…I guess college really is for trying new things!

Is Life Really in Our Control?

I’m finally out of the period where coming to college felt like sleep away summer camp…

As I’m starting to adjust to college life, and being away from home, the more real it seems. I am beginning this new chapter of my life, and it is both incredibly scary yet thrilling at the same time! I’ve never been good with change, and I think that’s because I like to be in control.

But you know what I’m learning?

The only thing that we can control is how we perceive the world, our work ethic and drive, and how we respond to experiences in our lives.

As cliche as it may sound, life is not a straight pathway. We must accept detours with faith in both ourselves, and fate. There will be times of bad, but there will always be times of good to follow.

I used to thrive on control, as evident in my eating disorder. It gave me an excuse to hide behind all my insecurities. And although it doesn’t make sense now, at the time, I clung to that ounce of control I had because it made me feel like I had some worth.

If people didn’t think I was pretty, smart, athletic, or interesting enough, at least I could be skinny.

At least I could sustain myself on 800 calories a day.

And I feel silly admitting this to you, but this needs to be said. That mindset is destructive. It made me small, and I am not talking about jean sizes or the number on the scale.

I am talking about self worth. I became a small person; my entire existence was small. I chose to limit myself, and with that, came extreme unhappiness.

While I restricted every bite, every calorie, I didn’t just compromise my physical health (which I surely did), I also compromised my mental health.

I developed social anxiety, and I didn’t want to leave my house. I hated eating in front of others. I didn’t want to meet new people. I didn’t want to try new things. I lived in fear.

All I wanted was a smaller stomach, bonier hips, a thinner face. I ate minimally. I exercised as much as my frail self could tolerate. I barely slept.

Of course I didn’t acknowledge any of this in the midst of my eating disorder, and I hadn’t fully realized how far I had plummeted into such a dark abyss until I was in recovery.

With the help of my family and therapy, I started to realize that fearing foods wasn’t normal. And no, it’s not okay to jam my fingers down your throat to get rid of my meal. I shouldn’t feel an adrenaline rush every time I have to raise my hand in class.

I didn’t have to be irritable all the time, and the feeling of hunger was not a measure of success. I didn’t have to push my friends and parents away. I found that guys do not find starving myself attractive.

So what’s the point? What did I get out of both having and recovering from an eating disorder?

The point is that we can only control so much. And what we can control, often makes a world of difference.

I’ve come to learn that life is sometimes messy. But in the midst of chaos, it can also be wonderful.

You can control certain aspects of your life. Choose to work hard. Choose to be kind. Choose to try new things. Choose to have a positive outlook. Choose to be adventurous. Choose to love instead of hate.

And although you can control how you carry yourself, it is impossible to control the words, actions, and reactions of other people. You cannot derive happiness based solely on other people.

And while we can seek joy, companionship, love, support, and compassion from others, we cannot expect perfection. Human relationships are amazing, and I definitely urge you to find friends and loved ones that love you unconditionally. Find people who want to guide you towards bettering yourself. Find people who try to empathisize with your struggles. Find people who are genuine.

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Me and my new friends at UVM! There are always good people to be met 🙂

However, we must also accept that sometimes people may let you down, hurt you, or not return your feelings. Human beings are flawed creatures and we must have enough strength, clarity, and self love to accept such a truth.

I believe true happiness is nurtured from within. Although it is normal to have moments of grief, stress, anger, and discontent…we must acknowledge that those feelings are only a small fraction of life.

There will always be good. There will always be sunlight in the world as long as you turn your face towards the rays.

You must be active in seeking a life with strong undertones of contentment. You cannot control everything, but you can choose to have faith, to love, to be optimistic, and to perservere.

I once chose to count calories. I once chose to hurt myself. I once chose to hate my body and who I was. I once chose to let others’ perceptions of me dictate my happiness.

And though I am still far from perfect, I have found a balance. If you put positive energy into life, there will always be moments of beauty to come. Life is better when you have faith in the overall virtue of the world. Small lapses can no longer dictate your life, if you always look towards the sky with hope and acceptance that life is not one experience, but a compilation of ever-changing moments.

I know life can be hard. But, have peace in your heart, and clarity in your mind. Do not let negative external sources cloud your outlook on life. Breathe in and accept what you cannot control, but always seek out the good that you can.

Sending you all my love and best wishes,

Emma

 

 

 

 

Restaurant Review: Cafe Con Leche

Before my best friend Julia went off to school last week, we decided to have one last hoorah, and went out to dinner in a neighboring town. I decided to google a place that would accommodate me as a vegan and happened to stumble across Cafe Con Leche in Newtown, Pennsylvania.

And boy, I am so glad that I did.

Cafe Con Leche has something for everyone. They have a regular menu, and an entirely plant-based menu as well! And both menus were equally stocked with goodies.

The vegan menu had burritos, “crab” cakes, various salads, pulled “pork,” bean and mushroom burgers, “cheesesteaks,”fajitas, “chicken” dishes, stir-fry, pastas, cobbler, and chocolate cake. Literally, they had anything you could possibly want!

I chose the veggie stir-fry with tofu. The assortment of vegetables were delicately sauced and resembled some of my favorite asian take out…but healthier! Cafe Con Leche definitely did not skimp on the veggies, and I was presented with a heaping helping of onion, celery, zucchini, squash, red pepper, purple cabbage, broccoli, and carrots. If you love eating the rainbow, order the veggie stir-fry!

I definitely plan on going back, and this time I will be trying the vegan burrito! I am so excited, and I hope you guys think about giving the vegan menu a taste, too.

Thank you, Cafe Con Leche, for a lovely evening of good food and good company! I am so glad I got to celebrate my best friend Julia here, and wish her good luck on her new college journey. I am so incredibly blessed.

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Restaurant Review: Nelli Rae’s Kitchen

One of my favorite things to do with the people I love is trying new restaurants! Eating out can be a little tricky as a vegan, especially if you don’t just want to eat a house salad at any ordinary restaurant (especially when your friends are chowing down on much tastier foods). But no worries! There are tons of vegan, vegetarian, and veg-friendly restaurants popping up as veganism gains popularity.

The other day my mom and I were out shopping for my college dorm and decided to stop at a cute little vegetarian restaurant that my Aunt suggested to me earlier in the summer. With an open mind and an empty stomach, we arrived at Nelli Rae’s Kitchen in Revere, Pennsylvania.

Upon arrival, the place had already charmed me. The restaurant was located in a quaint, roadside farmhouse. The tables were draped in various eclectic, floral table cloths and adorned with mismatched silverware that gave the place a little quirk.

The atmosphere was calm and very relaxed. With big windows, the sun illuminated the inside of the restaurant warmly. My mom and I were seated on the cozy front porch, and were welcomed kindly. Although they claimed to be understaffed on that particular day, our food came in a timely fashion, and our waitress was extremely pleasant.

And of course, the food was amazing! Although mainly vegetarian, there are a few vegan options worth trying. There was also a large selection of delicious smoothies and freshly pressed juices! I decided to get a carrot-apple-ginger juice, which was extremely refreshing and tasty (even though this was how I found out how I was allergic to carrots…I broke out in hives lol). Regardless, I still enjoyed the juice, and would totally recommend…if you’re not allergic, of course 🙂

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For my lunch, I had a sushi salad! Based with brown rice and topped with assorted greens, the salad was also decorated with nori, sesame seeds, avocado, shredded carrots, zucchini, and red pepper. The salad was completed with a perfect drizzle of miso-ginger dressing. It was the perfect amount of food, and I finished all of it.

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The front counter of the restaurant is also stocked with tasty baked goods (which are sometimes vegan!) Although I was too full to sample, I would definitely encourage you to try some vegan treats…they looked amazing.

So, all in all…if you’re hungry and happen to be in South East Pennsylvania, stop by Nelli Rae’s Kitchen for a bite to eat 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

Traveling the Jersey Shore…Vegan!

IMG_3981This past week, I spent a few days in Ocean City, New Jersey with some of my closest friends from high school. I was nervous about staying in a non-vegan household, but it ended up being so easy, and the trip was SO fun! I know a lot of new vegans struggle with traveling, so I thought I’d share some of my experiences so that it may help some of you.

Tip #1: Food prep! If you are staying with someone else, you can’t expect the host or hostess to accommodate your vegan lifestyle, especially if they have lots of guests to prepare for! So, come with your own food, so there isn’t any stress for either party! Luckily, I had a vegan friend along with me, and we brought applesauce, apples, bananas, fruit bars, pre-made rice, cereal, and almond milk with us to graze on. We appreciated the convenience of these foods when we were on the go.

Tip #2: Look up Restaurants: Before you go, look up restaurants that accommodate veganism or have vegan options! Eating out isn’t always essential, but sometimes it adds some more adventure to your travel experience. I either use Google, HappyCow, or the app Food Tripping to look up cool places.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t locate any explicitly vegan restaurants in Ocean City, I had to get creative! My friend told me about a frozen yogurt store that sold smoothies, acai, and pitaya (dragon fruit) bowls that were suitable for vegans called Yoasis.

So, for breakfast one morning I bought a Pink Dragon smoothie made with pitaya, mango, pineapple, and apple juice. It was such a vibrant pink, and it tasted amazing! I wish I’d snapped a picture for you guys, but it was truly amazing! My friend got the Green Goddess smoothie made with spinach, kale, spirulina, pineapple, banana, coconut water, and agave. She was pleased with her smoothie, as well!

Also from Yoasis, I bought an acai bowl for breakfast another day. I chose the Tropical Bowl, topped with mango, strawberries, coconut, and granola. It was delicious and very filling! I remembered to snap a picture (take a look above).

Many places on the boardwalk make sorbet, banana whips, and smoothies! Just be sure to ask if they have any dairy in them before you make your purchase.

Ultimately, veganism doesn’t make traveling a difficult experience! Just be prepared when it comes to food and dining. Don’t let food stress you out and ruin your vacation! Eating vegan is super convenient, so just pack to be prepared and enjoy the adventure 🙂 xx

Most Commonly Asked Questions About a Vegan Diet

Why are you vegan?

This is always a tricky question for me, and the reasons I went vegan aren’t as noble as I wish they were. I decided to become vegan in ignorance. At this time, I was in an unhealthy mindset, and I wrongly thought veganism equated to weight loss. I had lost a ton of weight in my sophomore year of high school, and shedding pounds became an addiction. In my junior year, I was starting to plateau on fruits, veggies, nonfat yogurt, lean chicken, and fish. I was at my lowest weight on this diet, and probably my most unhealthiest self. I was sickly skinny, my hair thinned, I bruised easily, and I was always unbearably cold.

But, of course, skinny was never skinny enough for me. So, I went vegan blindly. I had no idea what I was doing, and I ate fruits and veggies minimally, rather than in abundance. I was essentially starving myself, which led to anorexia, and then a bingeing and purging disorder. I ruined my digestion, my metabolism, and my sanity. It was an endless, hollow cycle of self-hatred.

But NONE of this was veganism’s fault. It was my own anxiety, my own lack of confidence. I wanted to be thinner, and I thought being vegan would accomplish that. But I didn’t know what it truly meant to be vegan. I was unenlightened.

Eventually, I had enough of being sick, both mentally and physically. I watched YouTube videos of Nina and Randa, the Vegan Couple, Freelee, Bonny, Steph, and so many more amazing individuals. They shined, and they led such vibrant lives. And they were all vegan.

But apparently, I was also a vegan. So, why was I so miserable, and so utterly lost?

I’d cry over eating a mere pecan, or if my mom made me “too much” food…and that wasn’t normal.  Who falls apart that easily? I certainly was never that type of girl, nor did I want to be that kind of girl.

I used to be stimulating, inquisitive, adventurous, cheerful, ambitious, and even a bit goofy. But here I was: lethargic, irritable, exhausted, isolated, paranoid (and totally constipated because my digestive system refused to work).

So, I educated myself further. I adopted a high carb low fat vegan diet. I ate until satisfied, and sometimes a little more. I ate in abundance, and it felt wonderful.

Suddenly, I had energy, more color in my face, and was so much happier. I think my happiness coincided with a happy, comfortably full stomach. Because as soon as my stomach started to become full, so did my life.

Veganism took on a whole new meaning. I started to notice the health benefits of my diet right away, which I will discuss in another question below. More so than the health aspect, I fell in love with the humanitarian and compassionate side of veganism.

I stay vegan because it is a life rooted in pure kindness. It heals and preserves the earth, it values all living beings, and serves as a more sustainable diet for starving third world nations.

You see, I have harbored a lot of guilt over how I became “vegan.” I feel as if I wasted so much time absorbed in my own worries, that I couldn’t be a good example for how wonderful veganism actually is.

And although I am still coping with the remnants of my eating disorder and my anxiety, I am ultimately growing. I went vegan out of selfishness and ignorance, but I stayed out of love for the world around me.

And let me tell you, I will never go back.

What benefits have you seen since becoming vegan?

            I apologize in advance if any of the following is a bit TMI…I just want to be honest with you guys!

DIGESTION: So, as I mentioned before, in the depths of my eating disorder, my digestion was terrible. There was a period of time when I couldn’t poop for a week, and I became dependent on laxatives. I was bloated beyond belief and by the time I saw a doctor, I looked 8 months pregnant. Why? I simply didn’t eat enough food to cause a bowel movement. It took way too long for my gastrointestinal tract to empty out, and it was one of the most uncomfortable experiences of my life. Everything about my life was full of complete and utter SHIT. Literally…

But, when I adopted a high carb low fat, mostly whole foods, vegan diet (in abundance), my digestion improved immensely. I go to the bathroom regularly, and bloating happens much less. I think this is due to increased quantity, and healthy foods full of water and fiber!

SKIN: Ever since I decreased my fat intake, my skin cleared noticeably! I never had terrible acne, but I did have icky bumps on my cheeks that disappeared with a cleaner diet. Now, whenever I eat oil and high fat content, I break out on my cheeks and chin. I also use an awesome vegan face cleanser by the brand Pacifica…maybe I’ll review it for you sometime on another post. It’s great!

ALLERGIES: Soooo…I can’t vouch completely that veganism rid me of my allergies…but I think it had a lil somethin’ to do with it! Plus, I’ve seen a ton of articles of people who think the same thing. While the flowers were in bloom, my nose would be stuffed up, and my eyes red and itchy. Springtime is supposed to be beautiful, yet I felt like I was hit over the head with a sack of bricks all season. But after eliminating meat and dairy, the following springtime was allergy free! No more Zyrtec for me…

Where do you get your protein?

            People associate veganism with being emaciated and sickly…which is so inaccurate! Vegans are strong! There are tons and tons of successful vegan athletes and body builders. They are obviously getting more than enough protein…

The obvious answer for where we vegans get our proteins is nuts, seeds, beans/legumes, tofu, and other soy products. But what else has protein?

Veggies! Eat your peas, spinach, broccoli, lima beans

Grains! Quinoa, oats, brown rice, buckwheat

If none of that floats your boat, you can always buy some vegan protein powder for your smoothies. I find that I don’t need it, though.

Is veganism expensive?

            No way!! Vegan diets are one of the most sustainable diets for third world countries. I think it could be a cure for world hunger. Animal agriculture is much too costly, invasive, and poisonous for the earth. We simply can’t produce enough meat to sustain the population of this Earth.

Sure, some of the specialty foods are a bit more expensive. But more packaged foods are typically less healthy, anyway. But none of it compares to the cost of steak!

Buying organic isn’t always essential, either. The most important thing is to eat whole foods! Eating conventional produce is way healthier than meat or dairy any day. Just make sure you wash your fruits and veggies well.

Basic, whole vegan foods are some of the most inexpensive foods around. Luckily for us, these basics are the staples of a vegan diet. Oatmeal, rice, frozen veggies, pasta, bananas, and canned beans are always a good deal! I literally just bought a ten-pound bag of jasmine rice at an Asian supermarket for around $4.99.

If you’re looking for more ways to stay within budget…buy in bulk, buy produce in season, and my favorite little vegan hack: buy the discounted spotty bananas at the food store! (They taste better anyway).

All you eat are salads…but I like cheese too much…

            HELL NO! I don’t even remember my last salad…(which is bad, I should eat more greens!)

In all honesty, vegans can eat anything they want. There are really tasty vegan substitutes to animal products! And, most are healthier and made from plant proteins.

EGG SUBSTITUTES: flax eggs, vegan eggs, applesauce, tofu, vegan mayo and more!

CHICKEN: Enjoy cruelty free, vegan chicken nuggets, patties, tenders, strips, etc.

PIG: vegan ham, hot dogs, corn dogs, sausage, bacon, etc.

BEEF: veggie burgers, meatballs, jerky, beef strips, marinated jackfruit, meatloaf, bouillon, bean burritos, etc.

FISH: vegan tuna, salmon, fishsticks, veggie sushi, etc.

DAIRY: plant based milks (they even have quinoa milk now, lol), salad dressings, cheeses, coffee creamer, cream cheeses

JUNK FOOD: vegan chocolate, puddings, ice creams, cakes, pancakes, waffles, pie, cheesecake, cookies, muffins, brownies, etc.

Just remember to keep an open mind! It may seem weird at first, but a lot of these vegan substitutes taste similar to the real thing! And so much healthier, too.

How do you be social on a vegan diet?

            Just go out! Don’t hide from your friends and family just because you’re vegan. If they’re eating out at a non-vegan place, eat before you go, or order fruit cups if you go to a diner, or order steamed veggies from the list of sides. You can almost always find a salad! Ask for one without meat, cheese or dairy dressings! If you’re worried about the restaurant staff not taking your requests seriously, stress an allergy. If I eat dairy now, I get super sick, so I tell the staff I cannot have it. Don’t be shy to ask the staff about ingredients! Just be polite, and almost always your kindness will be returned.

If you’re hanging out at a friend or family member’s home, bring vegan goodies! Show them how delicious vegan food can be.

Just remember, true friends will always be accepting and tolerant of your beliefs and wishes! Don’t let people make fun of your lifestyle, so socialize with people who radiate love, not meanness.

How can I convince my parents to let me go vegan?

            Transitioning to veganism is a big change…but a change for the better! Regardless, any kind of change can be scary. Often times, parents reject their children’s veganism out of fear and worry. This doesn’t mean they don’t love you or purposefully want to disrespect your beliefs. Your job as a vegan is to educate and combat ignorance. So, talk to your parents! Show them what veganism is all about.

Show them documentaries about how eating animal products is ruining the earth, the health of our bodies, and how it is outright cruel to the living beings we slaughter for our taste buds. Show them the facts, and refer to trustworthy articles! Check out vegan YouTube accounts of teens just like you who live awesome, normal lives. Sometimes, you just have to normalize veganism for them.

Cook your own meals and go grocery shopping with your parents! Adding a special diet to your parent’s daily routine can sometimes create stress if they don’t know much about it. Help out in the kitchen, and find your own recipes to help out your busy parents. Offer to share too…because vegan food is TASTY!

Just remember to approach this change with kindness and compassion. Do not demand things of your parents. Simply talk to them, and engage them in genuine, patient conversation. Almost always they agree if they know how passionate you are about the lifestyle, and if you are educated on the nutrition and finances behind it. Best of luck!

 

HOPE THIS ALL HELPED! GO FORTH AND GO VEGAN, MY LOVES. XX, EM