Today’s post is a piece of reflective writing from Andrea Hosfeld, a dedicated meditator and vegan chef. Enjoy!
The day after I decided to go vegan I went on a serious search for a good chocolate chip cookie recipe. It seems a bit shameful to admit that in those first days it was not the dairy cows or the male baby chickens that were playing on my mind. I had been a vegetarian for 8 years and as an avid cook I knew I was going to be losing some of my most essential and comforting ingredients. So… I learned how to make ‘eggs’ from ground flax and butter from coconut oil. I curdled soya milk with lemon´juice and grew giddy watching my vegan cakes rise in the oven. In the first month I fell in love with vegan brownies, pistachio cupcakes, blueberry lemon drizzle cake, and chocolate dipped macaroons.
Adopting a vegan lifestyle requires many different ways of ‘viewing’ or holding what unfolds. So knowing how to make a decadent vegan chocolate cake might seem like a feeble life preserver in the quest to live without dairy and eggs but in actuality, it was an important part of fashioning three important views that served me well in the ups and downs of making a big change.
Essentially, I began my journey by saying:
(1). This is not an exercise in depriving myself of pleasure.
(2). This is a joyful enterprise and a lot of fun.
(3). The tools for making this work are within my reach.
These aren’t the only views that can strengthen your resolve, of course, and I certainly wouldn’t have continued to eat this way if baked goods were the only thing pushing me forward. Each person will have a variety of beliefs and views that are operating at any moment in time. I happen to be a hopeless foodie so feeding the views above was a vital component in making this decision work.
My choice to go vegan, however, did not spring from culinary desire. One big influence was visiting an organic dairy farm in Devon where cows were supposedly ‘cared for’ much better than their factory intensive counterparts. It seemed to me, however, that they still spent a large portion of their lives standing in a sterile, stainless steel environment, time when they could have been grazing, beating their tales from side to side, and chewing the cud with their cow buddies. If this was the best possible scenario I was really frightened to see what was considered the norm. I took it upon myself to read more information and ask some difficult questions and found myself at that uncomfortable crossroads where you know something is causing harm but you aren’t sure you have what it takes to give it up. My desire that animals not have to suffer for my benefit became another indispensable lens for meeting the challenge of going vegan.
That being said… most days I do not walk through the supermarket thinking of that farm in Devon or conceiving of myself as ‘a vegan.’ It is something that usually arises out of a particular situation. Sometimes viewing myself as a noble crusader changing the world mouthful by mouthful is useful and skilful and sometimes I need to bring in a different view… compassion, for example, for the part of me that finds it difficult, at a practical level, to say no to foods that less than a year ago I categorised as completely ok. Knowing how to ‘practice’ with all that comes up as a result of this decision is what gives the choice a deeper nobility.
Learning how to dance the vegan dance goes a bit like this…
I am standing with my arms crossed at a 40 th birthday party lamenting the distinct lack of vegan nibbles and canapes.
I’m surrounded by little quiches with melted gruyere cheese and filo parcels stuffed with feta and spinach and homemade miniature lemon tarts with dollops of whipped cream… Let the ‘poor-me- I’m-a- vegan’ commence! I begin with letting myself ‘boo-hoo’ for a good ten minutes in my head so I can get a vivid taste of the dukkha inherent in this view. I want one of those tarts! Why didn’t anyone think to leave the feta out of the parcels? I am weaving a convincing tale of torture and suffering as the committee of my mind nods vehemently and shakes their heads from side to side in all the appropriate places. This situation officially sucks.
At some point I remember I can actually practice with this…and the question becomes: Which way of looking at this situation is going to provide some relief and ensure that I don’t make my way over to the French brie and eat the whole beautiful triangle myself? So, I begin by reminding myself of what I ate before I arrived, a luscious curry with some beautifully spiced basmati. I wasn’t feeling deprived exactly 25 minutes ago. Why is it such a big deal now? The desire to eat is still pretty strong. Wait, let’s see… Am I actually hungry? Truthfully, no, but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t take out a whole plate of those mini pizzas with the roasted red peppers. My body feels tight and contracted from the wanting… There is a nice pot of hummus with carrots cut into sticks that you could sample? No! I whine, that isn’t homemade! Why do I get stuck with the M and S hummus and the crisps? This isn’t fair.
It seems the self has morphed into a four year old who hasn’t slept in days. So it might be time to bring in a stronger way of looking, the big guns so-to- speak…
Have a look at that brie over there. Mmmmm, I say. Well, in order for you and most of the world to keep eating dairy without reservation we need to clear more and more land so we can grow feed for those cows so they can stand in a building with very little light and wait to be mechanically milked. In the meantime, there is less and less land to grow food for people in the world who need it. Oh, I say. (Silence) The breath slows. The body feels heavy. The whipped cream on the tarts loses some of its sheen when I look up at it again. The bit about the light really tugs at my heart and something softens. Somehow there is enough compassion for the cows and for me. The host, sensing my internal dialogue, brings the hummus platter to my side so I will not have to make the journey myself. Thank you, I say. Crunch.
Later during the party I find myself having an interesting conversation about whether artists need to suffer in order to produce good art. The brie could be sitting on the coffee table and I wouldn’t even smell it.
And when I get home there is a bit of a naughty scramble as I pull out one of those chocolate chip cookies that I put in the freezer for emergencies. I’m fine, I say, as I gobble it down without mindfulness. I’m totally fine. And I am. Because I’m learning, day by day, how to skilfully respond to the wobble of undertaking something that is both difficult and noble and life enriching and fun… sort of like the Dharma : )
Links to yummy chocolate chip cookie recipes: