THREE THOUSAND MILES LATER: THE BEGINNING OF THE BEGINNING

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San Francisco. Where the locals complain when the mercury drops below 60 degrees, vegan options are plentiful, “Have a nice day!” is standard dialogue and the smell of potent and pungent chiba constantly wafts through the air. Four days into my stay and I’ve been to two coffee shops, three Whole Foods, two bookstores, Haight Street, Berkeley, Oakland, Golden Gate Park and Fillmore Street. While the laidback demeanors and sunny dispositions of the locals are a far cry from my New England roots, I’m already comfortable calling this city of hills home.

5:00 AM—Horace Greeley’s words echo in my head as I bid a final farewell to the Boston skyline from the plane. The altitude increases and the familiar lights blend into a cluster of illumination in the sea of New England darkness. All the passengers slip into slumber around me and the cabin is dark except for my overhead light. My eyes won’t stay shut, so I train my zombie gaze on Kerouac’s On The Road (it seemed appropriate) as I sip a gin and tonic (it seemed appropriate).

Two plane rides, one layover, and some tricky navigation of bay area transit, and I’m…home? My new roommate Nelsey, along with her protruding pregnant tummy greet me at the door. Nelsey is a 28-year-old, University of San Francisco graduate student, who has a knack for community-based activism, social justice and contagious laughter. She’s backpacked through Mexico, worked in the State House and is affiliated with the Oakland Black Panther chapter. Upon my arrival she flexes her maternal instincts and heats me up a vegan rendition of picadillo, a Latin American dish made with potatoes, soffrito (green bell peppers, onions, garlic cilantro) and a tomato sauce. Picadillo traditionally has ground beef, but Nelsy used garbanzo beans.

C.R.E.A.M.

Due to my intensive sightseeing, and coffee shop loitering—the part of my day I try to read and write—I subsisted primarily on Whole Foods fare during the first four days of my San Fran sojourn, so I was only able to experience one remarkable vegan treasure in that time. Located on Telegraph Street in Berkeley, C.R.E.A.M. (Cookies Rule Everything Around Me) serves ice cream sandwiches. The Wu-Tang-tribute moniker supposedly came to the owner’s son when he was driving in his car listening to the prolific rap group.

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C.R.E.A.M.’s vegan cookie options are tuxedo (white and dark chocolate chips), snickerdoodle (butter, sugar cookie with cinnamon sprinkles) and banana walnut chocolate chip. Sandwiched between these you can choose from soy cherry chocolate chip ice cream, which includes chunks of real fruit, or soy mint. I tried the snickerdoodle cookie with mint…dolla dolla billz yall.

Internship

VegNews.McNishBenedictLGI’ll spare you the details and day-by-day breakdown of my internship at VegNews, but I will note that this job’s perks are edible. On my first day the fine folks at the magazine ordered vegan deep-dish pizza from Patxi’s, which was as amazing as it sounds. In the last week, I’ve been able to sample everything from veg deviled eggs to ice cream, plus there’s an endless cache of protein-rich energy bars, which has prevented me from throwing down exorbitant sums of money on food.

VegNews is strategically located in the Mission District. What was once mainly a Latino section of the city, the Mission is giving way to hipsterdom, and it presently boasts a variety of delicious veggie establishments, as well as bookstores, bicycle shops, coffee houses and ultra-trendy boutiques. A notable neighborhood mainstay around the block on Valencia Street is Herbivore an all-vegan eatery, with three locations in SF, that has been serving our kind since ’97. Herbivore’s dynamic menu has everything from pizza to tacos to soups and salads. I recommend the Indonesian Noodle Salad, made with rice noodles, greens, tofu, cucumbers, pineapple, oranges, bean sprouts, mint, cilantro, red cabbage, onions, grilled oyster mushrooms and peanuts.

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45 MINUTES NORTH – GOODBYE TO BOSTON

This blog has gone untended over the last several months due to an unrelenting office job and a brief stint in academia. From what the statistics and email alerts tell me, I do have some semblance of a (small) following. To you still out there, sorry for the delay.

In other news, I have garnered an internship position as an editorial assistant for VegNews magazine and set sail for San Francisco at the end of the month. While I may continually post more articles, interviews and quasi-fact-based narratives on this cyber-rag, I find it necessary to pen a final farewell to this city I’ve grown fond of. Excuse the rant and self-indulgent platitudes.

Vegan – how it came to be

I came to this city a wayward omnivore miscreant, unschooled in the ways of the world. Little did I know the evolutionary era I was about to embark on when I first arrived at 43 Parker Hill Avenue, BOSTON. It was the beginning, of the end of the beginning.

523713_2940761337941_1260512884_nI was enrolled at Emerson College as an Interactive Media Major (still not sure what that means, but it sounds great at parties) and publishing minor. One of the assignments for my first non-fiction writing class was to become an expert on a subject and educate the unknowing masses. My topic was how to be conscious consumer of “cruelty-free” meat and dairy products. One of my sources was a lady from a California-based animal rights non-profit (all records of this paper have been lost—the laptop containing those files was stolen on an Easter Sunday years ago). During our phone interview I sat in a secluded room in the Emerson library and listened to her wax metaphorical. She likened the notion of cruelty-free meat to a comfortable death camp—people live relaxing lives and then are slaughtered ruthlessly.

I was taken aback by her comparison, but as I dug deeper into our food industry (industry being a key word here), her rhetoric started to sound less like zealotry and more like the writing on the wall I never bothered to read. It didn’t take too much digging to uncover images of animals subjected to the gestation crates, waste-deep in their own feces, pumped full of antibiotics, abused and slaughtered, packaged, sold and labeled for our convenient consumption.

There was hurt in their eyes and pain in their cries. I learned that a pig has the cognitive ability of a 3-year-old human and animals get depressed, pissed, scared for their lives and long for their babies just like humans. I realized they issued no consent in this mass genocide, and furthermore, I realized I had a choice as to whether I contribute to their suffering.

Before my class was over I was a certified vegetarian. Months later I scrutinized the dairy industry through the same critical lens and became a full-time vegan. Amen.

Plant based, post haste

I’d like to think my coming of age experience was parallel to the city’s burgeoning vegan scene, but I’m sure these are delusional notions from an egocentric psyche. Since I first claimed veganism, I’ve seen some excellent establishments conceived in this fair city. Notable mentions:

Veggie Galaxy – a spacious diner with an expansive menu, beers on tap, an in-house pastry chef as well as grade-A milk shakes.

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Refuge Café – Not exclusively vegan, but it provides veg-friendly breakfast fare. If you’re in the Allston during the AM hours, be sure to stop in for the vegan breakfast burrito, read a copy of the Phoenix and dig the artwork on the walls.

FoMU – Allston-based ice cream parlor with a bevy of unique flavors and toppings.

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Sudo Shoes – cruelty-free footwear for fashionistas who start from the bottom up.

Other restaurants were already in existence, and I had the pleasure of trying them:

My Thai: Thai cuisine with great meat substitutes that can be complemented with their fruit-infused bubble tea (and a not so splendid view of the Glass Slipper—a “gentleman’s club”—the last remnants of the downtown area’s seedier side once known as The Combat Zone).

Peace ‘o Pie: Serves gourmet vegan pizza seven days out of the week. Sunday brunch includes a buffet of tempeh, tofu scramble and pancakes. Plates are weighed and sold by the pound.

Veggie Planet: Veggie Galaxy’s forbear. A frequent haunt of mine whenever I braved the droves of tourists and Ivy Leaguers of Harvard Square. A purveyor of pizza and salads. Seating arrangements are limited, but still worth your while.

Clover: Started as a couple food trucks and is now a burgeoning chain that includes several trucks and two brick and mortar locations. Clover is known for its chickpea fritter (falafel), seitan and tempeh sandwiches. Caters to the environmentally and health-conscious crowd with its seasonable vegetable sandwiches and compostable dinnerware. Also a quick and convenient stop for the coffee connoisseur. (Editors note: spent nearly two glorious years on the Clover truck, and eventually rose to the ranks of “team leader.”)

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Boston was more than the place where I did my time in academia; it was my home. She’s harbored my delusions of grandeur and was the backdrop to my inhibitions and ambitions. I’ll miss the streets, the familiar faces, the movie theatres, basement shows and coffee shops. Frigid winters and scorching summers, offset by seasonable springs and awe-inspiring autumns. Its frenetic and serene, beautiful and busted—everything a wayward, omnivore, miscreant, unschooled in the ways of the world would need, or want. Goodbye…for now.

 

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A STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION: SUDO SHOES

In our market, consumerism and convenience go hand-in-hand. While staunch vegans and activists will put their wallet where their ethics are, the unfortunate truth is most people buy what’s in front of them, no matter whose blood or sweat was involved. Because of this, it’s crucial for vegan businesses to join the status quo and allow ethical shopping to be a norm, not a novelty.

“If people don’t have access to the tools they want to live, they’ll compromise their principles,” Scott Fitzsimmons, owner of Sudo Shoes says. The classical musician and staunch vegetarian opened up the cruelty-free footwear store nearly two years ago. It’s success and eclectic customer-base is a testament to the fact that having ethical options available can be a force for positive trends.

Sudo shoes is a no frills store—one hardwood room with white walls lined with shelves, and a large block structure in the middle that showcases the footwear and gives the customers a place to sit. But each item bought and sold is a step forward, for animals and society.

As a vegan it’s a luxury to have a venue where you can peruse without having to meticulously analyze every option to make sure it’s on par with your principles. Sudo provides that luxury with a stellar selection of stylish high heels, antiquated wingtips and casual sneakers, from brands like saucony, habitat, macbeth, vegetarian shoes, good guys, di romeo, novacas, neuaura and olsen haus. Each of these provides the same comfort and quality as your standard footwear, but without the callous production practices present in most companies.

What makes a shoe not vegan? While the leather exterior is the culprit in most kicks, the “pig split” part of the shoe—the interior heel—is usually made from pig skin or leather. Also, many shoes use animals in their glue.

Fitzsimmons is also mindful of labor practices when choosing what brands to sell. He usually contacts the prospective company or he checks resources such as ChinaLaborWatch.org. Another source he notes is PlayFair2012.org, which has received considerable attention with the recent summer Olympics, and Free2Work is an app that takes the guess work out of buying ethical; all you’ll need to do is scan a barcode with your phone to find out a company’ labor practices. Fitzsimmons has had to bypass certain brands due to their tainted history (cough Asics cough).

There is also an air of eco-friendliness in the merchandise at Sudo. According to Fitzsimmons, the shoes he carries that mimic leather are made from polyurethane—or “PU”—microfibers, whereas most faux leather—the kind you find at your local Payless—are made with vinyl, or PVC.

While an inorganic material can have a stigma for an environmentalist, Fitzsimmons asserts that the polyurethane industry has taken leaps and bounds in the right direction.  One PU manufacturer, Brentano Fabrics, notes that polyurethane does not use the harmful solvents in its production process that are required for PVC or leather, and unlike PVC it will degrade over time.

Also, compared to the tanning process of leather, which at times uses chromium as an agent and creates hazardous waste, polyurethane is a greener and more progressive alternative.

Since its conception, Sudo has enjoyed a great deal of success from the Cambridge community, “From day one it was paying its bills,” Fitzsimmons says. While the store’s Facebook fan page is inundated with vegans, its clientele is varied—many people don’t even realize they’re in a veg shoe store when they first come in.

Fitzsimmons likes how his business doesn’t force the issue, instead he sees it as a potential avenue to an ethical lifestyle that people will follow only when they’re ready.  While words like “vegan” are a beacon for those with a plant-based proclivities, it can have the opposite effect for others who aren’t familiar with it. Instead of taking a hardline in-your-face stance, Fitzsimmons believes you can show someone the option and they can cultivate an understanding on their own, because only they can make the choice to lead a principle-based existence: “[When] your system is ready for it, then you have your moment,” he says.

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ALLSTON GETS COOL(ER): FoMu ALTERNATIVE ICE CREAM

Boston has experienced its list of vegan and vegetarian eateries expand exponentially within the last few years. While relatively recent restaurants like Veggie Galaxy and Refuge Cafe do a good job catering to the cruelty-free crowd, veganism has never tasted so sweet as it does now with the welcome addition of the alternative ice cream shop, FoMu.

FoMu (which stands for Faux Moo in case you were wondering), comes from the culinary prowess of Deena Jalal and Hin Tang – a hardcore foodie, wife and husband super duo. For nearly a year before FoMu came to fruition, the two had been making non-dairy desserts for other vegan, vegetarian and health food restaurants.

The dairy-free café resides in Allston’s Union Square, a location with a precedent for successful vegan businesses, like the Asian cuisine mainstay, Grasshopper, and the plant-based pizza parlor, Piece o Pie.  Jalal and Tang live only a mile from the Allston locale, and when they found out that there was vacant spot in Union, they seized the opportunity to open up shop, despite the fact that Jalal was nine months pregnant and they only had one month to open.

The interior of FoMu, is sleek and subtle with a contemporary, minimalist vibe accentuated by a twisty metal sculpture hanging on the wall, and serene indie music that croons through the speakers. There is adequate yet non-congested seating with a few high top metal tables and window-counters toward the front, as well as a large wooden bench and additional metalic tables in the back. Artwork by the talented Boston illustrator Andrew Jerz whose pieces depict eccentric characters with a vivid mish mash of color, adorn the white walls.

Like most ice cream shops, FoMu offers cups, cones, shakes and soon-to-come soft serve. While the dairy-free cafe has the typical vanilla, chocolate and strawberry flavors, it wades into unique waters with selections like avocado and thai peanut, which can be complemented with toppings such as organic agave gummy bears, coconut, almonds or Oreos. You can also grab one of the ready-to-go pre-packaged pints in an easily-accessible fridge across from the cashier.

 

My first time at FoMu, I tried the cinnamon coffee cake flavor. According to Jalal, the ice cream is coconut cream-based, and is sweetened with agave and unrefined cane sugar. It is prepared in a commissary in Arlington, where a new batch is made and delivered every couple of days, so it’s always fresh. One taste, and it’s apparent that FoMu’s product is not a mere substitute for ice cream, but a tastier and healthier alternative.

For those with a penchant for pastries, behind the glass-encased front counter, there are a slew of cellophane wrapped blueberry muffins, chocolate chip cookies, cinnamon buns and brownies.

FoMu further distinguishes itself with appropriately named, craftily concocted smoothies, like the Green Monster–made from avocado ice cream and spirulina flax, as well as the Mango Lassi, which contains mangoes, vanilla ice cream and masala spice. You can pick from soy milk, almond milk and rice milk to be added to the mix. Additional beverages include fresh coffee from Boston-based roaster George Howell.

While every vegan and health-food enthusiast is rooting for  the success of this dairy-free dessert establishment, it’s an unfortunate fact that similar ventures have faltered in the past, notably Wheeler’s Black Label Vegan Ice Cream on Mass. Ave. That was nearly half a decade ago though, and Boston’s vegan market has grown tremendously within the last five years.

If prospective success could be gauged by the owner’s confidence, then FoMu will be serving non-dairy delectables for years to come.

“We are really proud of our recipe and believe in the health benefits of coconut. I think we are really just scratching the surface,” Jalal says via email. “The community has been so supportive and appreciative of what we are providing and are travelling from near and far to try our tasty concoctions! We own the process from creation to customer, and enjoy every bit of it.”

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SUCCESSFUL SYNTHESIS: WHEN OMNI MET VEGGIE

The delicate dance of what is for dinner and who will make it can be a point of contention in romantic relationships, especially when the two parties have different beliefs. As a vegan I was forced to face this dilemma head on when I dated an omnivore, but with understanding and accommodation, my girlfriend and I successfully navigated the murky situation and I was able to try a slue of new and interesting home cooked meals.  I learned that romanticism doesn’t have to suffer from kitchen-based quagmires, and in the end it can be a blessing of mutual discovery and understanding.

I first officially met Alisha Mowder in Allston at a punk show in some dingy basement with low ceilings. A band’s set just ended and most of the attendees huddled in their respective social cliques outside in the backyard, surrounded by snow but warmed by High Life and cheap forty-ounces of malt liquor. I pointed Alisha out to a friend and mentioned how I thought she was cute, but being a human whose list of fears include rejection, I resigned myself to sneak furtive glances at her while doing my best not to be the creepy guy who stares. Thanks to my goading friend, she eventually approached me and gave me her number. With a bit of facebook finagling, reverse psychology and a great deal of patience, I secured a date with her. I brought her out to eat at My Thai, a vegan Thai restaurant in Chinatown, and this began a give and take relationship (mostly giving on Alisha’s part) of successful synthesis between an omnivore and an herbivore.

Alisha and I sidestepped the potential diet debacle by preparing dishes that were outside the realm of typical American cuisine.  Alisha was born in Japan and her mother who is Japanese taught her how to cook as she came of age across the Pacific, and moved around from Japan to Colorado, New Mexico and finally northern California. This was one of the saving graces of our culinary compatibility; Japanese dishes are traditionally not vegan, but by adding or subtracting a few ingredients they can easily be made so, and dairy issues were easily avoided due to the fact that Alisha is lactose intolerant.

Alisha has made things like mapo tofu, a dish that originated in China but is frequently enjoyed in Japan. Mapo usually has ground beef or chicken, as well as a chili sauce that is flavored with fish. If meat isn’t your thing then just take it out and you are left with a decent tofu dish, and you can also substitute for the chili sauce. Katsu, a method of deep frying with flour, eggs and panko bread crumbs, normally has chicken or pork, but tofu also works, and seitan, tempeh or a variety of mock meats could easily be introduced to the recipe. Alisha was not bonded to the idea of including eggs, so she simply left them out, and nothing drastic changed the composition of the meal. The katsu sauce is vegan, and it kind of tastes like worchestire sauce. She also made simple seaweed soup using water, pre-made dried seaweed salad mix, sesame sauce and soy sauce, and a mean green curry served over rice, made from chunks of potatoes and carrots. I have eaten with ease in Alisha’s presence, due to the fact that she consistently went above and beyond. While one might be tempted to call our differences a conundrum, I came to see that it was an exercise in understanding, and what manifested was a deeper appreciation of her.

Japanese is of course not the only international brand of food that can be veganized. Couples and culinary companions should be eager to branch out from their American enclaves if they want to eat plant-based meals that don’t sacrifice flavor. Alisha and I sampled Ethiopian food at a restaurant in Jamaica Plain called the Blue Nile Café where I ordered the Shiro Wat, which had traditional berbrere sauce and roasted legume flour with ginger and garlic. It was the first time either of us had Ethiopian food, and while we weren’t amazed with the restaurant, sometimes the challenge of pleasing everyone is a great way to experience something new and break up the monotony that might plague a relationship. That challenge can also be extended to the kitchen, and working together to create something plant-based and cruelty-free can be a feat that both parties can revel in. A couple I know recently told me with budding excitement about the great Mexican meal they had prepared for dinner. They concocted tostadas with black beans, chipotles, vegetable stock, turmeric, chili powder, dried parsley, dried thyme, and hot sauce.

When it comes time to go out to eat, mutually beneficial compromises are key. Alisha was rarely opposed to eating vegan food and has joined me at My Thai, Veggie Galaxy and Veggie Planet. As someone who once had an affinity for the carnivorous side of things, I understand that pushing veganism or vegetarianism on anyone is counterproductive and only exacerbates the rift, so if she was in the mood for something with meat I obliged on the conditions that the restaurant have something for me too. Our main spot was the Friendly Toast, a great retro-chic restaurant in the Kendall Square area of Cambridge (also one location in Portsmouth, New Hampshire), that has vegan options. Also, as veganism gains momentum in America, most restaurants are willing to accommodate—The Border Café, a south of the border themed joint in Harvard Square that was one of Alisha’s favorites, has a vegetarian fajita that can be made vegan, and if you ask the manager you can get extra avocado if you choose to subtract the existing dairy from the meal.

Having different diets is no relationship deal breaker, but a positive game changer—an opportunity to work together, experience new things, and practice mutual acceptance. Furthermore, the lessons you learn from this tiny hurdle can be used as a frame of reference to help you and your better half work through any potential friction that might result from diverging beliefs and opinions.

I could not write this article without expressing the much-deserved gratitude I feel towards Alisha and her tendency to accommodate me. I have eaten with ease in her presence and at her dinner table due to the fact that she consistently went above and beyond.

Alisha if you are reading this…thank you. I’ll be seeing you soon, on west coast time.

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HARD HITTING ETHICS: MMA FIGHTER MAC DANZIG

For the last decade, Mac Danzig–a 155-pound wrecking ball with a 21-9-1 record–has honed and refined his skills in the Mixed Martial Arts game. His out look and demeanor are proof that aggressiveness can synthesize with compassion and athletics can co-exist with intelligence. He is a hardcore herbivore with the spiritual sensibilities of a Bodhisattva, who possesses a marked insight and an affinity for nature.

Danzig is one of the many athletes who annihilate the stereotype that veganism is synonymous with weakness. “I feel that this thought process is dying fast,” he says via an email interview. “All of the information out there about diet has always been so primitive and biased—especially in the corporate, industry-driven modern age.” He goes on to say that it is only a matter of time before people get their health knowledge from other sources besides the biased and blighted, “milk industry billboards and whey protein ads in bodybuilding magazines.”

He might be the winner of Ultimate Fighter season six, but that accomplishment along with all the others are just brush strokes on Danzig’s big picture outlook. The merits of his transformation from a novice to full-fledged pro, are not numbers and titles, rather they are lessons learned and the character that has been built. “As far as specific accolades go, not one stands above the rest,” he says, “…the entire journey itself is what I’m proud of. All of it. The wins, the losses and everything in between.” While Danzig has gotten knocked down his fair share, he takes credence in the fact that he is still standing: “I’ve had so many hard times in this sport that I’ve lost count. I’ve considered quitting so often, but never gave up.”

Raw and organic food, mixed with nuts and legumes comprise a large part of Danzig’s diet. He rounds it out with fruit smoothies mixed with Vega protein powder, and juices made from greens like kale and spinach. When he trains for a fight he cuts out wheat, processed foods and refined sugars.

The foundation of this fighter’s hard-hitting ethics is the fundamental conviction that human beings are on equal footing with the rest of the animal kingdom. “I have always felt a strong connection to nature and all living creatures,” he says. “The idea that humans are superior to all living things is absurd to me. Especially when there are people who use that ideology to push away their conscience and treat every non-human with complete disregard.”

He believes that as the buyers and sellers on this earth, every one of us has a responsibility to tread lightly and act with care. While our individual actions might not have far-reaching consequences, we have a duty to act accordingly, which in his case is not supporting the systematic killing and torture of animals. “Even if it’s only a drop in an ocean, I prefer to make my actions count,” he says. “I don’t want to contribute to those horrible, inhumane industries that manufacture suffering on a massive scale.”

As an adult, Danzig’s responsibilities are more than just knockouts and submissions—he has a three-year-old daughter who he has raised on a vegan diet. He understands though that eventually she will make her own decisions, and if she strays from dad’s plant-based diet he won’t try and stop her. “My philosophy has never been to force opinions or beliefs on anyone, including my own child,” he says.

In the end he has confidence in her intelligence. He recalls one time she asked him, “Why do some people eat animals? That’s not nice. There is so much other food to eat!” He couldn’t give her a good answer.

When I asked Mac if he had any last words he wanted to share, he went to great lengths to explain that zealotry and force is not the way to turn the tide. He believes that unlike his profession, you can’t force someone to submit in order to achieve victory, you must educate, not admonish:

Since we are on the topic of Veganism and a large part of the readers are likely Vegan, I’d like to say that it has always been my M.O. to lead by example, rather than to shove ideals down other people’s throats.  I wish more people involved with animal rights and Veganism would take that approach.  I think that some of the fanatical Vegans who have turned it from a healthy subculture to a religious movement, end up putting more people off than they end up educating.  If your idea of propagating information is to point fingers and use force, then your audience will most certainly become defensive.  A line is then drawn, and a war is waged.  That is not the way. We are all on this earth together.  Having compassion for those who are ignorant will change your approach to educate them.  Most people who don’t understand the idea of animal rights or are simply uneducated, misinformed, or victims of corporate consumerism.  They are the same as you and I, they have just been dealt the wrong dose of information.    If we want people to take animal rights seriously, we must treat it seriously, with the dignity that it deserves.   In my humble opinion, doing things purely for attention attracts the wrong kind of attention to the cause.

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WHAT SELF HELP GURUS SHOULD BE TELLING YOU: MIKE MAHLER

Staying in shape is no easy task, especially in our fast-paced world and tumultuous economic climate, where self-improvement ranks a far second to mortgage payments. While politicians duke it out over healthcare reform, we are quick to forget that health itself starts with the individual, not insurance companies.

Mike Mahler, a staunch vegan and fitness expert, has made his living in self-betterment in his own compromise and cruelty-free way. Mahler has mastered every aspect of well-being from the body to the mind, core to cerebral cortex. He uses kettlebells–crudely described as a large ball with a handle–and does exercises like swings, cleans, snatch and jerk. Kettlebells may seem unorthodox compared to the standard barbell and treadmill method, but take one look at Mahler and the other athletes who have followed his example, like MMA fighter Mac Danzig, and you know it’s is the real deal.

At fifteen-years-old Mahler became a vegetarian after he read an interview with Harley Flanagan, one of the founders of The Cro-Mags (same band as John Joseph, author of Meat is for Pussies). Flanagan’s argument was based solely on compassion and logic. “He stated that you couldn’t talk about peace while eating a steak as the animal you’re eating died in agonizing pain,” Mahler explains in an email interview. As a child he visited a game park in Kenya with his parents and saw how an animal in its natural habitat in no way resembled the factory farms that feed the masses, “I realized that this is how animals should be living their lives. Not on some miserable factory farm being treated inhumanely,” Mahler says. So he took a stand to alleviate the suffering, and twenty-one years later he is still a proud herbivore.

Fitness has been a passion of Mahler’s since he was eighteen, and he believes it was a beneficial force, “It really helped me make some positive changes and develop much more confidence,” he says. He also realized that he should be doing what he loved for a living and be his own boss, “I got laid off and decided I never wanted to work for someone else again. Moreover, I wanted to do a career that excited me rather than just to pay the bills.”

He picked up the kettlebell in 2001 and got certified to be an instructor, since then he has put the proverbial pedal to the metal and made a name for himself, teaching classes around the United States and even in London in 2002. He has been interviewed and referenced by various fitness figureheads and publications and has written articles on kettlebell training for Ironman Magazine, Muscle and Fitness, and Men’s Fitness.

Physical well-being also hinges on what one eats, and veganism is advantageous to getting and staying in shape only when done correctly. One thing Mahler emphasizes is a high level of protein: “Protein is also very important and many vegans downplay the importance of protein which is a big mistake. We need a lot more than 10% in our diet for optimal functioning. I would say no less than 20% and for most 30% or more will be even better.” He suggests getting protein from a mix of nuts, seeds and legumes. Also a variety of hemp, pea and rice protein powders, “Works well for a fantastic blend of all the essential amino acids which is critical for every hard training athlete,” he says.

Diet is also an art of avoidance. As vegans we are constantly drawn to the mock meats and approximations, but Mahler warns against these foods and a slue of others. “Too much emphasis on processed junk, grains, and high carbohydrates is not going to work. It is a one way trip to insulin resistance and being a fat storing machine, ” he says. “Avoid soy, fake meats and grains including allegedly healthy ones such as Quinoa…Focus on getting all carbs from fruits and vegetables…”

Fitness for Mahler is something that penetrates below the surface, for one’s prowess is only as good as one’s thought process. Just look at his recommended reading list on his website–his list of literature ranges from The Art of War by Sun Tzu to Being Peace by buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, to The Best Natural Sports Medicine Ever by Dr. William Wong.

In 2011 Mahler published his own manifesto, Live Life Aggressively! What Self Help Gurus Should Be Telling You. It is a guide to willpower that determines success. While it’s easy to sling optimistic mantras like, “Live life aggressively,” to really get anywhere one needs to match actions with the words, and Mahler’s success in the fitness world is indicative that he does just that. “I believe in personal responsibility and taking charge of your life,” he says. “I also believe that people either want to achieve or they don’t. In other words if you need someone else to motivate you then you don’t really care about achieving the goal. You should wake up every morning with a fire to live fully.”

In the end though, it is the philosophy of compassion that distinguishes this kettlebell instructor, from the rest of the fitness gurus. Veganism in itself is an exercise in compassion, every time we abstain from perpetuating the cycle of the abuse of our fellow beings. Mahler concedes this point, “Compassion is my philosophy for life. Not just to people but to all beings. I think when you live your life with compassion as your guide you can’t go wrong,” he says. But in his signature aggressive fashion he explains that compassion is also important for number one, “An important part of this is being compassionate to oneself. This means you have the courage to live life fully and not settle. It also means you should never let others push you around or tell you what you can or can’t achieve. No one has that right.”

Live Life Aggressively can be purchased here, half the profits go to the Nevada SPCA, a no kill shelter for abandoned animals and LifeQuest Transitions, an organization that helps wounded soldiers.

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