10 June 2017

How a John Mayer song led me to [a kind of] veganism

It seems that it is now 100% normal for me to go several months inbetween posts, and I think it's about time I am okay with that. I follow a couple of mostly-full-time bloggers on things like Instagram and Facebook, and am continually inspired by them, but the fact is, one massive writing project is pretty much all I think we're made to handle at once (at least until we've finished one successfully, then, who knows!). So I'm trying to allow that inspiration to come without jealousy, which is a hard thing to admit feeling when I have so many amazing people and circumstances in my own life.

Lately, I have been doing some changing and shifting. About two and a half months ago, John Mayer released "Wave 2" of his "The Search For Everything" album, now out in full on iTunes (not that he needs the promotion). I didn't pre-order, but did buy it the day it came out and proceeded to play it while getting Jonathan dressed that morning. Frankly, I didn't love all the songs on this new offering. I have warmed to some of them since I've seen him perform them in Vancouver in April and have allowed them to "seep in", as music is so wont to do in our selves and our souls. One song, however, hit me like a freight train at that moment, and I do believe inspired some of the shifts in thinking and living that I've undertaken since - though these had been percolating long before I heard it.

Called "Changing", this song speaks of how John (as I always assume an artist writes themselves in their music, though there are many songs that are not autobiographical, I'm sure) is still changing, and he isn't done changing yet. The lyrics are quite simple, and circulate around this simple word and its different formulations in a way that probably bores some listeners. For me, though, it spoke loudly and clearly.

I have listened to John Mayer's music since his first album hit stores and my dad bought it for me, thinking this artist might be something special. Room For Squares remains one of my favorite albums to this day, and as Mayer has continued to write, evolve, fail, and try again (many songs of his in those words, there!), I have watched and learned from his journey. While I can't say I'm an expert in his biography, it's quite public knowledge that, about 5 years ago, he suffered from the illness that I will in no technical terms describe as "losing one's voice"...literally from overworking and performing. Adele experienced the same thing around the same time. Basically, it seemed as though it might be the end, and as I listened to the album of his that came out around the same time, Born and Raised, I was deeply saddened both for him and the many who would miss his thoughtful songs and mellow, soothing voice. As I'm writing this out, I'm wondering if I have the time progression right here, and whether Born and Raised didn't come out immediately following his return...anyway, the facts remain the same. Apologies to those of you who are more avid fans that I reading this. Over the years, Mayer has been involved with several famous ladies and made a bit of a reputation as a "bad boy". His infamous interview with Rolling Stone (I still haven't read it, once again showing my lack of care to the details) was one that he would write about in a song, turning it into a pun and showing how he realized he'd said some things he shouldn't have. All of this to say: John Mayer's life journey is one that has had some very tangible and public ups and downs.

After he became ill, Mayer moved out to Montana, and disappeared from view of pretty much anyone in the media or who didn't have a personal invitation. Last year, he began releasing parts of this new album, the first in many years and one that was accompanied with much hype amidst his fans. The announcement of his first tour in ages was met with huge excitement and anticipation on social media, and I began to think about the possibility of seeing him perform again (the first time was following Heavier Things, also in Vancouver, when Maroon 5 opened for him - yes, you read that right, they opened). But nothing had as much impact, even his concert, as that song (which he also performed, much to my joy).

When I heard "Changing", I realized that it was time for some changes, and also time to acknowledge that we are ALL "still changing", and will continue to do until the day we leave this earth for the next.
Around the time of the concert this year in April, I started thinking about (and quickly decided that it was what I wanted) becoming vegan. Or, at least, for the most part. As many of you reading this will know, Michael has been doing more hunting as time has gone one the past few years. Thus far, he's gotten two deer. We have a good friend in Duvall who raises pigs each year, and we buy half of one for ourselves at a ridiculously good price for meat that is truly pasture raised, and even, I would say, "well loved". We crab each summer and Michael also loves fishing. All of this to say, my decision remained more complicated than I wanted it to be. I was firm, however, on my omission of dairy and eggs unless someday we were to raise our own cows and chickens (the latter is really the only one I'm open to, at this point...!). This really wasn't going to be a massive leap, as I already ate little meat and rarely drank milk outside of a coffee cup. The eggs, well, that would be hard. But I was mentally all in.

Loosely documented here on the blog is my journey in my academic work towards and into what is called Animal Studies. It has recently come to my attention that perhaps this is not something that most people - in or out of academia, to be frank - actually understand what that means. I usually follow up the statement, "I work in 19th Century French Literature and Animal Studies" with that of "It's essentially Animal Ethics". This, however, is likely not much clearer to those not already working in one of those fields. Some days, I'm not even 100% sure what it means. But suffice it to say, here, that by beginning work in this field I have learned much of the horrific ways in which our food is raised - produced, really - and as a Christian have felt deeply convicted of making changes in my life. This translates into what I eat and the products I use - so basically, almost everything I buy. Michael has been on-board with this transition, and we've worked together to try to avoid "bankrupcy" in these endeavors (not sure people our age or with as few major assets as ourselves can even use that term). We have grown and learned a lot together.

All of this is said to show why it seemed a pretty natural progression to go [mostly] vegan. Just like my decision, I pretty much went all in from Day 1. My grocery trips were both exciting and terrifying, as I attempted to transition myself without derailing Michael and Jonathan, neither of whom would be making the [full] journey with me. (Having said this, Michael has been gracious in trying all the new recipes, and humoring me on days when I forget to prepare a meat add-in and he's "stuck with" a meatless meal.) I confided in friends who I knew and trusted at school that were longtime vegans, admitting my angst about the new grocery game and the challenges of baking vegan (things don't turn out the same, nor are they meant to!). It was exhausting but I was generally enjoying it and feeling like it was doable.

Last Monday, I had a deadline and I planned to spend close to 8 hours at school by taking an early bus in, before coming back north to go to the gym before picking up Jonathan. Over the weekend, I'd experienced some gas and discomfort, but just thought it was normal stuff that would pass as I slept. Monday morning, however, I woke feeling fatigued and still nauseated off and on. I got myself to the bus and to campus, and was able to meet the deadline that I had that day. However, in the meantime I had chills and the fatigue persisted, along with the on-again, off-again nausea. While this was relieved periodically, I overall just felt crummy. The gym was off the table by 11am.

As the day progressed, I was confused. I had no idea what had caused this. The new veggie burgers I'd tried over the weekend had no ingredients that I could suspect being the origin of such an extreme reaction, and I'd eaten nothing else new. I got home in the afternoon and laid down. That was when I realized that I might know what was causing much of it: iron deficiency. Now, before you jump to the conclusion that I then realized that I needed to switch back to an all red-meat diet because no one can possibly get enough iron on a plant-based diet, let me just stop you there. Everything I have read that is current on veganism affirms that one can [relatively, depending on your lifestyle/free time] get the nutrients necessary via plants and the many plant-based products that are readily available (often, in great variety) at stores from Fred Meyer to Whole Foods to Trader Joe's. What I did realize was that, perhaps, this necessitated good planning ahead, and that my schedule, especially at the end of a quarter, does not always allow for that.

Today, I am in the midst of a short period of stepping-back and reassessing the best approach as I move back towards a vegan diet. I am, in some ways, deeply discouraged. As many people starting a new diet, I began this endeavor excited and enthusiastic, trying new recipe after new recipe. Now, it's hit home that the kinds of ingredients (largely beans and legumes) that are the main source of iron, etc. in a vegan diet are ones that many people's bodies are not accustomed to eating at all, let alone 3-4 times per week! So, I'm attempting to take things a little slower in order to eliminate those ingredients that might be problematic for me, personally.

I share all of this because it is a journey that I have largely undertaken privately, but that has impacted me heavily, even before last Monday's disappointments. My conviction about choosing to not eat meat that I know exactly where it has come from is connected to beliefs that have to do with loving my neighbor and doing and giving all that I can to help curb and end world hunger. In my opinion, these are issues that are intertwined, and that cannot be  objectively "prioritized". They all impact one another whether we like it or not, and the move towards this very prioritization is what has exacerbated elements of each over time. By ignoring one, we feel we are alleviating another.

Mainly, I want to say that, for me, human and animal "issues" are not ones that can be isolated from each other, as much as we try to do so in order to justify our abuse (in either direction, if we think about who works in places like factory farms, or in the pet industry). So I sit here, typing this ridiculously long post, to say that that belief in my life leads me into a transition to a dairy- and egg-free, mostly meat- and fish-free, way of eating. You may think I'm crazy, but hopefully after reading this, you at least understand a bit better why I'm doing it. And if you don't, I'd love to talk more about it with you sometime.

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