Many moons ago when I studied and earned my "Plant Based Nutrition Certification" from eCornell, I remember learning about how there was no such thing as "sustainable fishing". And now, I find, well, there is this whole other world out there that is related to "ethical" eating even as a vegan, that many people are unaware of the ethical price of their food choices.
Oh sure, you hear the usual questions about, "Do you use plastic packaging at your shop? Because I don't support plastic packaging use!" but does anyone ever consider where their sugar comes from? Or whether or not the workers on whatever farm they get their veggies from are treated fairly and paid a fair wage? Do people ever consider how staff are treated/paid in the restaurants they dine in?
There is a whole other level of cognitive dissonance that exists, lurking beneath the feel-good factor of choosing a vegan diet, and delving deeper will only make your head spin and make you feel hopelessly incapable of enacting real change in a world obsessed with consumption.
We live in a capitalist system where resources are limited, food is scarce, clean drinking water is swiftly becoming a dream of the past...and its all part and parcel of our continued need to consume and to participate in this system of excess.
Whats wrong with owning less? Whats wrong with minimalism? Whats wrong with eating less and wearing the same old clothes many times over? And while we are on this subject of whats, what on earth is an "Influencer" and why do they have any say in anything at all?
You know what my brother said when I told him I was looking for a change?
"Yeah, man, you can become one of those "Vegan Warriors", you know? One of those "Influencers", like spreading the Vegan message, fighting for the Vegan cause!"
WTF is that supposed to mean? For real?
Like...is it about hashtagging everything? Hashtagging myself as a "Vegan Chef" and hashtagging my food as "saving the world one vegetable at a time!" or is it about making a name for myself so that then people will somehow believe what I say as being gospel and then change their ways?
I just...I've been walking this earth for more than four decades now. You know what I have learned? People don't change unless they want to. You can't force change. Sometimes I feel dejected and depressed and I think, damn, people aren't going to stop eating animals until they have fished the last damn fish out the ocean, until they have eaten the last calf to be born in an unnatural manner, until they have cracked the last egg on earth that was laid by the last sick and dying chicken...people will keep drinking the milk meant for another animals young, they will keep saying shit like, "Oh, but I can't really give up Cheeeeeeeese!" pshhh. Yeah, sorry, but what more can you expect out of me after I already went vegan, opened a damn vegan restaurant and really did what I could to show people whats possible with choosing a plant-based diet? What more can I do?
I can't even figure out where to begin...I understand now that you teach by example. I have always known that, and I just don't get the whole "Vegan Warrior" thing because I have always been averse to being hit over the head with something and when I am given the facts in a manner that respects my intelligence vs scaring me half to death, I tend to be more receptive.
Fear is a constant in our lives as human beings, why do we need to dish out more? Ethics and Morals are taught, and they can be learned. Many people don't want to change because change is hard and people are essentially insecure about the strength of their will power. More often than not, though, change weighs heavily on ones circumstances. Choosing a plant-based diet, choosing to eat "grass fed" whatever, choosing "organic" vs not, that is a luxury that many people the world over simply cannot afford.
So even though I actually put my money and my time where my beliefs align with my actions, I can still get shit from an armchair activist who believes they know what I ought to sell, what I ought to cook, what I ought to do with my time they have no hand in supporting financially. These same activists had an opinion on when our shop served Impossible Meat. They didn't consider the bigger picture and the lives (livestock) saved when this product came to the market.
They were willing to "cancel" a plant-based eatery serving Impossible but were all cheering and signing up for a "vegan tasting menu" on a Monday by a meat heavy restaurant playing soft ball with the plant-based movement.
Ripe with cognitive dissonance on exactly how blind they truly were.
You want to know what is hard about running a vegan restaurant? Knowing that no matter how hard you try, all you are doing is "reducing the harm", not just to the environment, but to all living beings. You still end up with issues like needing pest control, although I will be honest, that issue is more to do with fruit flies or not understanding that every bit of cardboard packaging needs to be discarded as soon as items are delivered if you wish to avoid things like roaches.
You can learn to make your shop the most inhospitable place for a pest to want to rock up to, maintaining cleanliness to high standards, ensuring everything is stored in airtight containers, and to lay down eco-friendly deterrents to things like ants crossing the threshold, but there will always be that odd chance that something escapes all your carefully laid plans to not take lives.
Our shop, before we moved in, was previously a family run local Chinese restaurant. When I viewed the place, prior to paying to take over their license and premises, I remember seeing tubs of raw chicken laying on low shelves, uncovered, maybe they were defrosting them, who knows, but I remember being mortified.
Cleaning the space was a mission in itself. I did a lot of it myself, scrubbing years worth of grime off walls, sweeping away the carcasses of roaches from years of people not having looked in corners dark and damp. My word, it was one of the most disgusting experiences of my life, and yet it was also an experience I took great pride in, because I would personally see a wall go from black to white, thanks to my due diligence.
Located on the ground floor and facing a "park" of some kind, we would see rats the size of small cats trot past on the regular. Keeping those rats away from our shop was a matter of militantly avoiding opening the back door, sealing every possible nook or cranny or hole in our walls and facades, and initially we did need to call pest control to ensure that these creatures were eliminated.
These early experiences are what pushed us to adapt and to store our goods with such care as to give a tiny mouse zero reason to come trotting in. You know, there is nothing worse than an exterminator laying down traps and you having the misfortune of coming across something like a gecko trapped on there. Its heart breaking. You feel like a frikken murderer. I cannot even begin to describe how awful it feels.
This is the reality of where your food comes from, just on the surface. You want to eat in a place that is clean, that has no pests, that makes you feel good about your food choices. And that comes at a cost, not just to the staff who work there, who are constantly working hard to make sure there is never going to be a breach of the perimeter, but also many of my team are Buddhist and have had to ensure that something as simple as a fruit fly, is not seen flying about near your food! Its a paradox of sorts.
Beyond all this was my sense of urgency with regards to protecting the health of my staff. When I worked at a restaurant, I remember that every first week of the month, they had pest control come in. We would have to cover all food and serving equipment with bin bags, and then the place would be heavily sprayed down. I would come in the next morning and part of my job was to remove all those bin bags that were used to cover everything.
I would end up with cold and flu like symptoms, brain fog, and fatigue that would last a week to ten days. It didn't take a degree in science to understand that the toxic load of that was what was causing my symptoms. I experienced this several times before I actively requested to avoid working the day after pest control, because I was already contending with liver damage that I was doing everything I could to recover from.
The first time I paid for pest control in my own shop, I ensured that I was standing right outside the shop as I waited for the fogging to be done. What I saw truly horrified me. Not only was the guy fogging the place not too concerned about protecting himself, he seemed to be quite blase about the whole thing saying that, ":Its safe, don't worry". Again, after I removed all the covering, despite me wearing protective 3M particulate mask, I got the same symptoms as I had experienced when I worked at the restaurant I had wprked at before I opened my own shop.
So I pushed the team to be mindful about how they cleaned everything at the end of each day. If we are extra vigilant about ensuring we don't create an environment that invites pests in, then we won't need to expose ourselves to these kind of toxins. I am proud to say we succeeded.
The last time we called an official pest control service of any kind would have to be towards the end of our first year. We have used everything from borax to baking soda, vinegar to fruit fly traps we make ourselves...but most importantly, we have done everything we can to always ensure that everything is properly stored and that our floors and fridges are always thoroughly cleaned daily.
To this day, I know that the choice to avoid serving ANY animal products has been a huge deterrent in keeping pests out. I also believe that in avoiding the use of excess chemicals I have not only saved the health and welfare of my team but also avoided unnecessary build up of toxins in our working environment. I would never have known what was possible if I hadn't been exposed to much of it first hand.
Covid19 has actually killed off the majority of our furry friends that we would see in great numbers in the back alley behind our restaurant. I am guessing that the lack of sightings have to do with the lack of easily available food scraps, a scarcity that was brought on by the curtailing of business hours for most restaurants and also the curtailing on the supply and demand for food produced in restaurants. Its a good thing, for sure, no doubt they stopped reproducing as much, and they just quietly went underground.
More than the lives lost to pest control, I have become increasingly aware about our hand in the working conditions that are faced by those who produce the raw materials with which we cook our food. We have, from the beginning, done what we can to avoid using vegetable and fruit that are listed on the "Dirty Dozen" and to maximize use of vegetable that we know are on the "Clean Fifteen" list. Of course, we can only do our best.
Ever considered why Almond Milk is something not ethically sound? Its a very water intensive crop. Avocado? Yeah, again, cartels, drought, and yet people want to put it in every frikken thing without considering how damaging this crop is to the ecosystem. Lets not even get into Sugar.
You want to bake anything, sugar will be part of that process. You want to be vegan and feel good about your veganism? Give up sugar!
Give up consuming anything with sugar in it. We can say, "Yeah, but raw sugar is vegan" and what not, but its not ethical. People working the sugarcane plantations are working under dangerous and often abusive conditions, modern day slavery is real.
I always wince when I see vegan blogs and Vegan "Influencers" who are all about the pastries and the cakes and the nuts, nuts and more nuts...oh, and avocados.
As a restauranteur, sometimes you have to make a choice and balance your ethics with what you know you are willing to serve and what the customer demands. There is still a lot that many vegans are willing to stomach as long as it comes with a vegan label, they don't want to have to think about the ethical cost of that product beyond some sort of "fair trade" or "sustainably sourced" label.
I get it, sometimes you think, "Damn, dude, I am already doing so much, why do I also have to do this to make a difference? Why can't one of those animal eating fools cut out the sugar instead of me?" lol.
I feel that way about a lot of things sometimes...and I have been through all the stages of grief, as a vegan and as a Chef/restaurant owner.
Then yeah, most of what I have been dealing with the last year or more has been depression and acceptance.
Almost resigning myself to the reality of the world we live in. A world in which a self-proclaimed "Vegan" is happy to eat plant-based chicken from a deep fryer at KFC that is shared with the real chicken eaters. How someone can call themselves "Vegan" and actively campaign that this is "progress", that is the reality I have to contend with.
I am just...yeah, I accept that this is the world we live in. Where "Vegan" doesn't mean what I believe it to mean. Where saying "Plant-Based" actually carries way more gravity than being Vegan. Where being Plant-Based also has its zealots about being whole foods plant based (WFPB) which in the end actually IS the most ethical way of eating, and I have been so not ready to deal with that myself that I got caught up in the small picture aspect of choosing a plant-based diet and running a plant-based restaurant, none of which will ever be enough in the long run.
I have to hold myself up to a higher standard than that, not because someone is watching, but because I am just as much of a hypocrite as a "vegetarian who eats fish twice a month" if I don't seriously face up to the reality of my food choices.
When you look up unethical companies, Coca Cola and Nestle are listed right up there at the top of that list.
You want to know how many companies/brands Coca Cola owns?
That is A LOT of different brands, I mean, they are listed from A-Z!
I have been guilty of drinking iced tea that comes in a tetra pack (assuming I am doing less damage than an aluminum can or a plastic bottle) and I am pretty sure that its made by the Coca Cola Company!
I am posting all this because I want to be facing the reality of my choices at the same time I am hoping to share with others what it actually means to be part of the capitalist system, to be a consumer, to see the hypocrisy in someone like Marie Kondo now selling shit on her site that "sparks joy".
Its apparently not good enough to declutter, you got to replace that clutter by spending money yet again on something that has a predestined spot at the landfill.
Who will keep your precious little trinket after you die?
Your kids won't likely want to hang on to most of it. Does it serve a purpose? Does it carry water or can it be used to carry groceries? How many handbags or watches do you need in order to carry your smartphone or to tell you the time of day?
How many shoes can you wear at any given time? Does it matter that your watch strap or your shoes were made from Pineapples if the process created pollution in the environment or that the people producing it were working under substandard conditions?
I just...I am as guilty as the next person when it comes to falling prey to marketing ploys, but I hope to genuinely work towards being more self-aware, more mindful, more discerning, and to simply avoid buying anything that doesn't serve a bloody good purpose that actually is a necessity for sustaining life. More than this, I hope to avoid causing suffering for other earthlings, not just animals, but for humans as well.
I am but one person on the path to enlightenment with nothing to guide me but my own moral compass.
I am thinking about all of this, rather heavy thinking, as I look to the future and to the life I will be leading in the years to come.
I am becoming starkly aware of my choices and the avoidance of responsibility for problems I believe are too big for me to get a handle on. As I watched the second season of "Rotten" on Netflix I became aware of the heavy weight of guilt that was practically choking me, the issues I was unaware of but that now I had no excuse to feign ignorance about.
Another documentary I watched that struck a chord, "Kiss the Ground".
You can't walk away from that feeling good about the capitalist system. Covid19 has made it infinitely clear to me the world I am living in, and for the most part, I am ashamed and I want no part in it. But that is not a solution.
I want to do everything I can in the years to come, to raise awareness about the poison of empty consumerism, to show what it means to move towards a more sustainable way of living, to harvest rainwater, to process sea water into drinking water, to use solar power to meet the needs of running on board fridges and fans...to cook in a sustainable manner, to stop buying processed crap regardless of the labels...and I do not expect any of that to be easy, trust me, I am sure I will have moments of utter failure and despair ahead of me, but I am going to do my very best to work towards my goal of true sustainability and use my lived experience to teach by example.
The system is broken. The world we live in is controlled by politicians and governments who do not always have our best interests at heart. I am grateful for the eye opening experience that has been the pandemic we are all enduring. Time will tell how and what people will choose to do with the truths they are facing today.
I for one am done with the system, I want to change it and I have yet to figure out the how of it, but make no mistake, the change has got to be something I aim for because I can't pretend to be happy with everything I have achieved so far and claim that it has been good enough.
There is ALWAYS more we can do.
I am not giving up. I will not give up. I will do my best and keep fighting to maintain my best effort or die trying.
That is all from me, for now.
Much loving kindness, always.
My name's Lisa. I love to cook, I love to laugh, I love to write. I don't always believe I have the time for creating, and now I am going to work on simply going with the flow, with the food, the restaurant, the writing...and if I can, for one moment, spread a little joy along the way, well, its worth the effort.