Being Vegan

Back in 1985-1986, I was deeply troubled by the plight of the rainforest in the Amazon. The information I received at that time came primarily from the Rainforest Action Network who talked about deforestation to support the booming fast food industry and the American hunger for cheap hamburgers. I felt helpless to do anything until I realized that I could start by not eating meat. My connection to the environmental movement was connected to my eating habits and I became a vegetarian. Ten years later I began a journey into Buddhism, eventually becoming a student of Thich Nhat Hanh. It was there that I learned about vegetarianism as it relates to ethics and its connection with compassion to all beings and not killing. Now, another ten years have passed. I am still a vegetarian. I am still a student a Thich Nhat Hanh.

In October 2007, he wrote a letter to our community where he talks of the environment and food. I encourage you to read the entire letter, but here are few excerpts:

– In 2005, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) began an in-depth assessment of the various significant impacts of the world’s livestock sector on the environment. Its report, titled Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options, was released on November 29th 2006. Henning Steinfeld, chief of FAO’s Livestock Information and Policy Branch and senior of the report, in the executive summary, asserts that: “The livestock sector emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global. The findings of this report suggest that it should be a major policy when dealing with problems of land degradation, climate change, air pollution, water shortage, water pollution and loss of biodiversity. Livestock’s contribution to environmental problems is on a massive scale and its potential contribution to their solution is equally large. The impact is so significant that it needs to be addressed with urgency” (page XX)

– The U.N.’s recommendation is clear: “The environment impact per unit of livestock production must be cut by half, just to avoid increasing the level of damage beyond its present level,” (page XX)1. We need to reduce at least 50 percent of the meat industry products, and that we must consume 50 percent less meat. The U.N. also reports that even if cattle-rearing is reduced by 50 percent, we still need to use new technology to help the rest of cattle-rearing create less pollution, such as choosing animal diets that can reduce enteric fermentation and consequent methane emissions, etc. Urgent action must be taken at the individual and collective levels. As a spiritual family and a human family, we can all help avert global warming with the practice of mindful eating. Going vegetarian may be the most effective way to fight global warming.

– Both monastic practitioners and lay people practice vegetarianism. Even though the number of lay practitioners who are 100 percent vegetarian is not as many as monastic practitioners, but they practice eating vegetarian meals either for 4 days or 10 days each month. [Thich Nhat Hanh] believes that it is not so difficult to stop eating meat, when we know that we are saving the planet by doing so. Lay communities should be courageous and give rise to the commitment to be vegetarian, at least 15 days each month. If we can do that, we will feel a sense of well-being. We will have peace, joy, and happiness right from the moment we make this vow and commitment.

But what about being vegan?

I practiced veganism for about 12 years (1994-2006), a practice of not eating any animal products or byproducts, including dairy and eggs. This can be a challenging diet and requires more effort than a simple vegetarian diet. It was because of this challenge that I became lazy. It would be easy to blame my young children, who eat cheese, for my lapse but I must take responsibility for my own actions. I have been lazy.

This week I received a Skype call from Denise Glover, a sangha friend whom I’ve never met in person. She expressed frustration with trying to practice the vegan diet, primarily suggested by the letter mentioned above, and was seeking support from a sangha friend. I felt awful when I shared that I had become lazy and had been eating dairy periodically over the past two years. We talked for 45-minutes and she inspired me to redouble my efforts and to return to the path of a vegan diet.

Here’s what Thich Nhat Hanh wrote in regards to being vegan:

This evening when we begin the retreat, everyone will be informed that we will not use dairy and egg products during the whole retreat. From now on, all of our retreats and, of course, all of our practice centers in Asia, Europe, and North America will be conducted like that. Thay trusts that lay practitioners will understand and support wholeheartedly.

So, there you have it. I am “Being Vegan” again. I continue my no meat diet and add the no dairy back. At this point, it does not extend to animal byproducts such as leather but may in the future. In just the past four days it has brought great awareness to my eating habits. How wonderful this is for me. Please support me where you can and consider making a change in your diet, perhaps simply reducing your meat consumption a little, and help reduce global warming, eat healthier, and live a more compassionate life.

  • Denise

    Thanks for the support, Kenley. It is my wish to support and be supported by other OI members (or anyone at all!) that are working towards veganism. There are challenges, such as living with an omni husband and encouraging (but not imposing) veganism with my 9 yr old son. Having what I eat every day be in congruence with my beliefs is a wonderful source of joy for me.

    I am open to emails and chat with anyone on this!

  • Denise

    Thanks for the support, Kenley. It is my wish to support and be supported by other OI members (or anyone at all!) that are working towards veganism. There are challenges, such as living with an omni husband and encouraging (but not imposing) veganism with my 9 yr old son. Having what I eat every day be in congruence with my beliefs is a wonderful source of joy for me.

    I am open to emails and chat with anyone on this!

  • Brian

    Eating a vegan diet one needs to be particular careful as to getting enough nutrition. Our centers have been sorely lacking of the types of food, especially food combinations, that would provide adequate intake of proteins, vitamin B’s, and essential minerals.

    As a whole, the standard American (or Vietnamese) diet does not provide for a Vegan LIFESTYLE, therefore practicing Veganism seems to demand a not-so-standard way of looking at food, pursuing different alternatives like amaranth, quinoa, millet, buckwheat, and plenty of greens, and even vegan supplements.

    It would be helpful before getting into Veganism to study a bit, and to work with a nutritionist or someone who knows a heck of a lot about what foods to eat when, and in what combinations, to get what the body needs.

    This is an important part of the practice, that I don’t feel the community has really considered too much. The chemistry of the brain is highly influenced by the foods we eat. Not getting the right nutrition can be directly related to our lack of concentration, our irritability, anger and other states.

    Many of us have poor nutrition as it is, and bringing that into the Vege/Vegan world can jeporadize the harmony of the community. Injuries, broken bones, anxiety, being un-mindful, losing track of time, poor memory, depression…these all have something to do with poor nutrition, and unbalanced brain-chemistry. It is wonderful to consider a vegetarian/vegan lifestyle, but it is just that, a lifestyle, and needs to be considered such.

    We are engaging on a most revered, and wonderful path. And we need the right tools to support us on that path. A proper diet is a vital part of our transformation and healing.

  • Brian

    Eating a vegan diet one needs to be particular careful as to getting enough nutrition. Our centers have been sorely lacking of the types of food, especially food combinations, that would provide adequate intake of proteins, vitamin B’s, and essential minerals.

    As a whole, the standard American (or Vietnamese) diet does not provide for a Vegan LIFESTYLE, therefore practicing Veganism seems to demand a not-so-standard way of looking at food, pursuing different alternatives like amaranth, quinoa, millet, buckwheat, and plenty of greens, and even vegan supplements.

    It would be helpful before getting into Veganism to study a bit, and to work with a nutritionist or someone who knows a heck of a lot about what foods to eat when, and in what combinations, to get what the body needs.

    This is an important part of the practice, that I don’t feel the community has really considered too much. The chemistry of the brain is highly influenced by the foods we eat. Not getting the right nutrition can be directly related to our lack of concentration, our irritability, anger and other states.

    Many of us have poor nutrition as it is, and bringing that into the Vege/Vegan world can jeporadize the harmony of the community. Injuries, broken bones, anxiety, being un-mindful, losing track of time, poor memory, depression…these all have something to do with poor nutrition, and unbalanced brain-chemistry. It is wonderful to consider a vegetarian/vegan lifestyle, but it is just that, a lifestyle, and needs to be considered such.

    We are engaging on a most revered, and wonderful path. And we need the right tools to support us on that path. A proper diet is a vital part of our transformation and healing.

  • Honey Bear of the Heart Mind

    Dear Coach, Dear Team,

    I identify as a neo-vegan, it is the next step for me from being a vegetarian. What this means to me is when I am traveling for work or at Sangha potlucks with non-vegan friends I practice mindful egg and cheese. I also have a strategy for celebration and ease/comfort by enjoying ice cream meditation from time to time. I also recently had a run in with a desperate craving for Parmigiana Reggiano!!! Mama mia che’ doloroso! However, I do spend energy focusing my kitchen towards being vegan and when I am in my hometown I capitalize on green, vegan resources.

    There can be a tension for me between my deep aspiration to live in a life connected-affirming way, and the part of me that needs ease, comfort, and familiarity. In my sitting practice I often times will sit with both part of myself and empathize/listen/full presence(non-judging) with parts of me that aspire and the parts that make choices I have experienced an easing of this dialectic/tension when both parts are honored and I feel deep gratitude for the needs they as mind-personality strategies represent. The energy of love and gratitude that I usually experience as opposed to the “if you were/are a real “blank” you should/would blank” and more into “how can I meet my need to serve and honor all life in this moment”…this energy is so sweet and delicious it truly meets my need for comfort and east that transcends any ice cream or a good Reggiano (notice I said usually as I am more at the insight stage than full understanding!).

    A good resource for vegan ism and nutrition/medical advice http://www.drfuhrman.com/

    Go Team Bodhi!
    HB de HM

  • Dear Coach, Dear Team,

    I identify as a neo-vegan, it is the next step for me from being a vegetarian. What this means to me is when I am traveling for work or at Sangha potlucks with non-vegan friends I practice mindful egg and cheese. I also have a strategy for celebration and ease/comfort by enjoying ice cream meditation from time to time. I also recently had a run in with a desperate craving for Parmigiana Reggiano!!! Mama mia che’ doloroso! However, I do spend energy focusing my kitchen towards being vegan and when I am in my hometown I capitalize on green, vegan resources.

    There can be a tension for me between my deep aspiration to live in a life connected-affirming way, and the part of me that needs ease, comfort, and familiarity. In my sitting practice I often times will sit with both part of myself and empathize/listen/full presence(non-judging) with parts of me that aspire and the parts that make choices I have experienced an easing of this dialectic/tension when both parts are honored and I feel deep gratitude for the needs they as mind-personality strategies represent. The energy of love and gratitude that I usually experience as opposed to the “if you were/are a real “blank” you should/would blank” and more into “how can I meet my need to serve and honor all life in this moment”…this energy is so sweet and delicious it truly meets my need for comfort and east that transcends any ice cream or a good Reggiano (notice I said usually as I am more at the insight stage than full understanding!).

    A good resource for vegan ism and nutrition/medical advice http://www.drfuhrman.com/

    Go Team Bodhi!
    HB de HM

  • Brian, you are so right about the need for awareness when undertaking a vegan diet. There is much education needed, particularly in our practice centers, but it is not unattainable.

    Finding the right nutritional balance is more than just eating greens, and most Americans eat poorly. I remember the reason for becoming vegan back in 1994 – I was eating poorly as a vegetarian – too much cheese and dairy – pizza, ice cream, grilled cheese, etc.

    With the vegan diet I have an opportunity to be more diligent. For me, I take a multi-vitamin supplement, 2-tablespoons of flax oil daily, and make sure protein exists in most meals or snacks (nuts, protein powder, beans, etc.). I still indulge in gross processed food from time to time, but it isn’t every day.

    I think the best thing we can do is bring the conversation forward and support each other in our efforts. I know writing this blog entry will generate both. I also have been talking with the Deer Park monastics to explore the vegan alternatives. Maybe they should stop selling Starbucks Frapacinno’s in the bookstore?

  • Brian, you are so right about the need for awareness when undertaking a vegan diet. There is much education needed, particularly in our practice centers, but it is not unattainable.

    Finding the right nutritional balance is more than just eating greens, and most Americans eat poorly. I remember the reason for becoming vegan back in 1994 – I was eating poorly as a vegetarian – too much cheese and dairy – pizza, ice cream, grilled cheese, etc.

    With the vegan diet I have an opportunity to be more diligent. For me, I take a multi-vitamin supplement, 2-tablespoons of flax oil daily, and make sure protein exists in most meals or snacks (nuts, protein powder, beans, etc.). I still indulge in gross processed food from time to time, but it isn’t every day.

    I think the best thing we can do is bring the conversation forward and support each other in our efforts. I know writing this blog entry will generate both. I also have been talking with the Deer Park monastics to explore the vegan alternatives. Maybe they should stop selling Starbucks Frapacinno’s in the bookstore?

  • Pat

    Kenley,
    Good for you. I am still just trying to keep my vegetarianism going–and working on getting rid of occasional fish consumption. I just got a book Vegonomicon which is the best vegan cookbook I know of. It’s helping me to cook more interesting and flavorful meals and moving me into the vegan world. There are so very many reasons to be a vegetarian and/or a vegan. I grieve over the our abuse of animals. Blessings.

  • Pat

    Kenley,
    Good for you. I am still just trying to keep my vegetarianism going–and working on getting rid of occasional fish consumption. I just got a book Vegonomicon which is the best vegan cookbook I know of. It’s helping me to cook more interesting and flavorful meals and moving me into the vegan world. There are so very many reasons to be a vegetarian and/or a vegan. I grieve over the our abuse of animals. Blessings.

  • True Mountain of Peace

    I would like to share a story of the cautions of being vegan. I have many friends who have been successful with a vegan diet, but this type of diet is not healthy for everyone.

    I became a vegetarian at the age of 20 and then practices veganism for several years.

    In my 30’s I dealt with low energy and chronic depression. Several folks suggested that I try some medications to help the depression, which I reluctantly did. It helped some but not completely, and also had certain side effects.

    I asked my prescribing psychiatrist if there were any other options for me and he suggested that I consult with a bio chemist and doctor to see if there were other things i might try in lieu of medications.

    i learned through some of the testing that the bio-chemist did that I was very depleted, did not absorb the vegetable protein well and had blood sugar problem dues to my high carb diet. He suggested that I try to add animal protein back into my diet ( like eggs and dairy) and even consider eating meat again. He gave me supplements and suggested that I eat certain foods to help with my vitamin and mineral intake.

    My energy levels and depression were lifted by this approach. It was hard for me to add the animal proteins back into my diet. I still stuggle with this and I make every effort to harvest animal products that have been raised wholesome way.

  • True Mountain of Peace

    I would like to share a story of the cautions of being vegan. I have many friends who have been successful with a vegan diet, but this type of diet is not healthy for everyone.

    I became a vegetarian at the age of 20 and then practices veganism for several years.

    In my 30’s I dealt with low energy and chronic depression. Several folks suggested that I try some medications to help the depression, which I reluctantly did. It helped some but not completely, and also had certain side effects.

    I asked my prescribing psychiatrist if there were any other options for me and he suggested that I consult with a bio chemist and doctor to see if there were other things i might try in lieu of medications.

    i learned through some of the testing that the bio-chemist did that I was very depleted, did not absorb the vegetable protein well and had blood sugar problem dues to my high carb diet. He suggested that I try to add animal protein back into my diet ( like eggs and dairy) and even consider eating meat again. He gave me supplements and suggested that I eat certain foods to help with my vitamin and mineral intake.

    My energy levels and depression were lifted by this approach. It was hard for me to add the animal proteins back into my diet. I still stuggle with this and I make every effort to harvest animal products that have been raised wholesome way.

  • I’m newly trying veganism after being vegetarian for 14 yrs. My husband is vegan and I also have a toddler. My best advice would be to check out VeganWorld.com. This website really helped me on my journey. Great resource site and the other members gave me lots of great advice and support. The site has recipes, restaurants, health food stores, blogs, chat, articles, book suggestions….all for vegans and vegetarians.

    http://www.VeganWorld.com

    Lots of great topics in the forum too. I hope this info is helpful.

  • I’m newly trying veganism after being vegetarian for 14 yrs. My husband is vegan and I also have a toddler. My best advice would be to check out VeganWorld.com. This website really helped me on my journey. Great resource site and the other members gave me lots of great advice and support. The site has recipes, restaurants, health food stores, blogs, chat, articles, book suggestions….all for vegans and vegetarians.

    http://www.VeganWorld.com

    Lots of great topics in the forum too. I hope this info is helpful.

  • kalll

    Being a vegan doesn't necessarily mean being healthier, your organism can lack animal proteins and this can affect your good health in a somewhat manner. I get your points very well but I personally can't support in this as I sustain my beliefs: a healthy eating regime includes meat as well.
    http://vitanetonline.com/description/22309/vita

  • Great information here. I have found that being a vegan is one of the best diets you can be on, and you just feel so much better (once you get used to it.) It's not easy, but well worth it.

  • Thanks for this excellent post. It's nice to know this kind of information.

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  • I am a vegetarian from last five years, things were uneasy for the first one year, but as the time passed I started to get comfortable and now I am a pure vegetarian! thanks for this interesting post, I am sure many would like it.

  • Pam Payne

    ur blog is amazing dude

  • Thank you for this information, I have been really interested in becoming a vegan and am doing the necessary research first so I know just what I am getting myself into. I have been a vegetarian for about three years now and want to make sure I am prepared for the transition.

  • I am a turned vegetarian for last 4 yrs and just feel so light after becoming a Vegan.
    It is a very wrong concept of not having enough nutrition in a vegetarian diet, infact I would say it is a disease free diet as in if not processed properly, meat can be dangerous.
    I have traveled to many parts of Asia last year and found huge communities strictly vegetarian as result of their religion and doing perfectly fine and healthy..

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  • Yes. One reason is that animal fats are one of the causes of heart diseases and other diseases. And nowadays with the way they breed them, you can get additional cancer risk. If you are born with a normal condition, a vegan diet will extend your life expectancy by 5 years versus a non vegan diet.

  • golfman_story

    What I can say is very nice and helpful as well as informative post…really help me very much more!! Thanks..

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  • Veganomicon is an excellent cookbook. There are so many vegan cookbooks out there these days and the recipes are better than ever. Learning to cook delicious vegan meals is by far the best way to make the transition easy and enjoyable.

  • I had the experience of good and bad things of being nonvegan. I want to become a vegan and still unable to follow it.

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  • Brian, you are wrong. A vegan diet does not jeapordize anything. Like you said, the standard American diet is already awfully unhealthy. How would veganism make this worse? You need to have a healthy diet, and that doesn't change whether you are vegan or not. I have not found it difficult to live vegan, and healthy. I am healthier since going vegan. I don't eat much of fried foods at all, and I eat more (fresh) fruits and vegetables. Unwarranted warnings about vegan nutrition is dangerous and makes the vegan diet sound scary when it's not, at all. What's scary as heck is the standard American diet, milk pumped full of hormones, greasy and fattening and fried meats, egg yolks. Fast Food Nation. That's bloody well scary.

    That said, I do think that Thay's monasteries need to offer more beverage options. I was at Blue Cliff and had no idea if I was getting proper amounts of B12. I had to go to the fridge to find soy milk most of the time, instead of the meal line the cook set up. EVERYONE should visit a nutritionist, a vegan one, at some point. I went to a talk by a vegan bodybuilder on nutrition and health, and I suddenly felt very knowledgeable about nutrition. Either that or avidly self-educate yourself. It shouldn't take too much time, just a little bit of effort and knowing how to find top quality sources of info. It would be very easy for Thay to educate himself on vegan nutrition. Maybe he already has. It's been six months since I was in the monastery.

  • Florencevegan

    I am coming from the other direction. I am a strict vegan and am looking into becoming a Buddhist, and am trying to find out if Buddhists are vegan, as I regard my vegani way of life as integral to my spirituality. I am so happy to find that Buddhists are indeed vegan and that I can find a spiritual home here at least in terms of my compassion and reverence for animals. Thank you. Oh I know it is a struggle to be completely vegan in a non-vegan world and sometimes I have found mistakes eg in medicines or toiletries or household products, but we can only do our best. Florence (in Glasgow).

  • veganbeing

    Good for you…I'm really proud you are going back to the compassionate life

  • veganbeing

    One more thing…i'd recomment checking out this site to help converting to a
    vegan being.

  • max191

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    charcoal grill

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  • I couldn’t imagine being a complete vegan. It is so hard to get the right amount of protein without supplements. You would need to eat a lot of beans!

  • No Evil Star

    Almost everything has protein in it. Unfortunately, this is a myth that people believe still. I don’t think many people even realize they’re getting MUCH more protein than they need, or even know how much they need.