What is Mercy Release?

This image is taken from a Scientific American Slideshow.

I’ve now been living in Asia pretty consistently for 10 years now. I have been lucky to spend decent lengths of time in Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia (and although not in Asia, I have spent a year in France and also Morocco).  The first five years were spent tour-leading for a company that focused on trips that were considered culturally appropriate, fun and low impact. I spent much of my time having local interaction with the local people, taking my clients to local restaurants. markets, temples, taught them a bit of language and I have to say, I really enjoyed it It was during that time, that I started to doubt my vegetarianism values. As I have discussed on my Story of Transformation post, I really felt that  not eating animals and participating in some of the activities that were such a significant part of culture, I was somehow disrespecting the practices of the locals. For more selfish reasons, I thought that I was perhaps missing out on so much by not eating an ‘authentic’ Tom Yum Goong with the shrimp inside rather than having it with mushrooms instead.

Fast forward a few years, I am now a committed vegan, and because of my interest in other cultures and traditions relating to animals, I was fascinated to learn about mercy release today and also completely shocked by it.

Anyone who has spent any time in Asia, will be familiar with the concept. It’s a Buddhist tradition and involves the release of captive animals. Buddhists will release animals as a way to gain merit. The origin of this centuries old tradition is the idea that spontaneous acts of kindness and compassion will mean something when judgment day comes.

I have posted about religious reasons for using animals just last year when I wrote about Eid Al Adha – which is the ritualistic slaughter of an animal at the end of the fasting month.

I have recently found out a lot more about mercy release and like most traditions (cultural or religious) that we practice today that involve animals, the origins of those traditions were started out of necessity, but today have become a commercial operation and / or are no longer necessary.

I myself have witnessed mercy release in my wanderings around Asia in the few years in the following places.

  • In the lead up to Tet (Vietnamese New Year) when fish are released in to bodies of water (that is often not the cleanest it could be).
  • Walking through the streets of Bangkok, there will be people walking around with cages full of finches. The vendor will gesture to tourists and of course to anyone who will pay the money to come over the release the birds.
  • In Thai temples (of which I visited sooooo many in my tour-leading days) there are often vendors who will sell the opportunity to release animals (often birds, turtles and eels) to those who are visiting. Of course, Buddhists who are coming to the temple are in merit-making mode and will often participate in this. Tourists often do this too. Of course, all those little animals in small cages, of course we want to let them  go.

I have to admit, that until just a couple of hours ago, I had little idea about this industry. I don’t think I have ever participated in it even in my tour-leading days. I heard rumours from other tour leaders that the animals are often recaptured. I have to admit, I wondered how an animal could be captured twice (What terrible luck!) and wondered if this was THAT bad, but at the same time, there were a heck of a lot of these animals in the cages. I probably should have found out more, but you know… I never got around to it.

Well, I just found out a whole lot more in one of favourite animal rights podcasts, Our Hen House. There were interviewing Iris Ho from Human Society International who was interviewed about this issue.

Some of the incredible takeaways from learning about this issue are:

  • In Taiwan, there are 200 million animals that are ‘mercy released’ a year. I cannot imagine how many animals go through this fate altogether considering China is a country that also practices Mercy Release. Considering these animals are trapped from the wild or bred in terrible conditions, this is an almost unbelievable.
  • The animals are often transported long distances and suffer incredible stress. Many die during this process or shortly after release. They are released in places that are not native to the animals there so there can be considerable environmental impacts.
  • The animals are trapped and the traps are often not checked for a long time. Many die before they are even collected by the trappers. Many can be injured during this trapping process.

To hear the podcast interview, listen here from 28:24  for about 20 minutes.

For a snapshot of the issue, here is a video that has been produced by HIS. It’s in Chinese, for the Taiwanese communities. Please take a few minutes to find out about more about mercy release.

The idea of showing compassion towards animals to gain merit is certainly a noble one. I would like to suggest that very often these traditions and rituals have become involved in ego, rather than about what the actual message was about when the tradition started. Here’s a few examples.

  • At Christmas it’s become about parties and gifts rather than peace and goodwill
  • Thanksgiving has become about Black Friday sales and gluttony rather than simple gratitude.
  • Eid el Adha has become about who has the biggest animal to slaughter (the rich will often have the bigger more expensive animal) rather than breaking fast and sharing meat with the poor in a time of scarcity where there wasn’t much food out there.
  • Kosher and halal slaughter – the idea that the animal has to be fully conscious so that consumers could be sure that the meat was healthy has now become a reason NOT to stun the animal before slaughter.

There is plenty we can all do to raise awareness about this practice and practice alternative types of mercy release to gain merit whether you are Buddhist or not.

Things you can do.

  • Don’t participate in the practice and educate others about it. Support HSI’s work and share the information around your social networks and over the water cooler.
  • If you work in the tourism industry, please educate your passengers about this issue and ask them to not participate. Don’t visit temples that support this practice and explain why to the monks. I wish I had known more about this issue when I was tour-leading.
  • Even if you are Buddhist, you can still gain merit by spontaneous acts of compassion towards animals. Become involved with legitimate release of animals, like ones that have been rescued and then help release them back in to the wild (turtle release programs, cleaning animals after oil spills etc) or perhaps even better, help animals 3 times a day by NOT doing something! That’s right….. Not eating them! OK. It might not be looked on as favorably in your religious community, but if you are into pleasing the Gods, I am sure they will think your intentions  will gain you loads more merit.

 

I Feel So Humbled!

For over a year now, I have been doing volunteer work for Colleen Patrick-Goudreau. I am a communications liason, which basically means that I help answer Colleen’s emails.

In the past few years, as her message has been discovered by many thousands of people through her excellent podcast, she has received many letters from her listeners, fans of her books, audience members during her speaking engagements etc. Now, if Colleen, were to reply to all of these, I don’t think she would have time to do any other work! My job is to answer these emails as best as I can.

The emails that Colleen receives might be a nutrition question, a challenge they face being vegan, the heartache they experience when they first realise what is happening to animals or most often, a letter of thanks to Colleen and an expression of the joy they feel living this lifestyle.

How am I qualified to do this? Well, since becoming vegan, I have listened to Colleen’s podcasts many, many times. First of all they were just enjoyable to listen to but more importantly, I learnt many communication strategies through her and also I have an in-depth knowledge of her work and her message. I also NEEDED to listen many times. The ideas were so radically different to those that I had, I needed to listen to them multiple times in order to internalise the ideas expressed in them. This means that I am able to point people to which of Colleen’s resources they might find helpful and if that is not available, I keep up to date with so many other blogs and podcasts so they can get the resources they need. I don’t want to give anyone a reason to go back to eating animal products. I also think I am able to provide some guidance to those that write to Colleen. When writing for Colleen, I always try to stay empathetic and remember my own story.

The benefits I receive by doing this work, far outweigh the precious time I spend writing them. First of all, it gives me hope. When I just feel saddened by the incredible scale of animal suffering, I just have to read an email to know that people are changing and waking up and realizing that there is a healthy viable alternative is brilliant. I also get an incredible satisfaction to know  that I am helping people by giving them resources, or comfort and of course getting to work with my hero Colleen by doing this work is fantastic. I also love the fact that I get to hone my communication skills by doing this work. Each letter is an opportunity to speak for the animals. The more one practices, the better one becomes. It’s great for my own interactions with the people around me.

So, I have been doing this for a year now. I’ve got my little routine for answering. It usually happens on Friday evening and I hope to be doing to for a long time. I know Colleen appreciates my work (she tells me often and gives such lovely feedback) but I was incredibly humbled the other day when I listened to her podcast.

Each year, she does a podcast where she reads a collection of love letters she has received from people all around the world to give her listeners hope. This year’s episode was nearly 3 hours long! That’s a lot of love letters!

I am tickled pink because at around the 12 minute mark, Colleen takes some time to thank little ol’ me! If you want to hear what she has to say, you can click here and if you want to hear the kind of letters I have the honour of replying to, keep listening. 🙂

 

Vegan Trekking Food in Nepal

rubnunn

Many behavioral omnivores are concerned about going vegan because they think that it is too difficult, especially when traveling. I am happy to tell you that trekking in Nepal is a good destination for vegans. I would not say it is a great destination, as the food situation is not fantastic for omnivores either. It certainly is not like Thailand, Bali or the West Coast of the US but it is good. Let me explain…

It was my second visit to Nepal as a vegan, for Seb, his third so we feel like we have a good lay of the land now and would love to give you some tips in case you are planning a trip to this beautiful part of the world.

First of all, a little about our context. We were tea house trekking which means you stay at a little, usually very basic guesthouse every night and along the way there will be other guesthouses that you can have lunch in and snacks. While nearly everyone has porters and guides to help them carrying their belongings. We didn’t. We carried our own bags. We certainly did not prepare our foods or were self -sufficient. It is also worth saying, that we went in winter time which is pretty cold weather. This means that we observed very few vegetables being grown or available. The situation might be different at other parts of the year but at the higher reaches of the trek they told us that all vegetables are imported by plane from Kathmandu and that food had to be brought to the villages on the back of the yaks or the porters at considerable expense. This explains the high prices of foods compared with those in the valley or in Kathmandu. It is also worth mentioning that in my previous visit to Nepal, I spoke with someone who worked for the World Food Program in Nepal. She told me that the was a lot of malnourishment in the mountainous areas of Nepal to the extent a many people needed vitamin supplementation. At the time, this surprised me, but on my second visit, I could certainly see how this is the case even in the relatively wealthy valley of the Khumbu. There are few vegetables, hardly any fruit and to be honest, not a lot of protein either especially for those who do not need eggs.

So what kind of food is available while trekking in the teahouses?

Most of the food available is refined carbohydrates and processed foods. Some examples of items you will find on a trek are…

Dal baht: This is local stable in the mountains and I really like this. It will compose of a big plate of white rice, a bowl of thin dal broth and a vegetable curry. Usually the higher you get up the mountain,  the vegetables will be more like just potato so it not especially nutritious apart from just calories.

Magical-World

Fried rice and fried noodles. Again a tasty option, and includes some vegetables, but not that many

Momos. These a small steamed dumplings also made with refined flour and some vegetables inside.

Happy Sleepy

Pasta. One of my favorites. There might be a few different versions. The best is one served with tomato sauce which seemed to just be a canned tomato sauce or soup.

Popcorn. A fantastic snack to have when you arrive at the trek and waiting for dinner.

Plates of boiled vegetables are available although they are usually not very flavorful and fun to eat. They are also expensive.

Potatoes… Lots of them. Rostis, french fries and hash browns. All those not vegan are easily made vegan (Can I have the rosti minus the egg and the cheese?).

Soups. Lots of these that are vegan, yet not especially healthy.

Oatmeal without milk. One of the better choices. Usually you will need to add sugar and sometimes there will be some apple too.

Also a the lodges there are lots of vegan processed foods which can work out well. Oreo cookies, Pringles, candies.

As you see, there are plenty of foods available that are high in calories which is what you need when you are expending so many calories as you do on a a trek in cold conditions however, they are not necessarily the most healthy and I would suggest that working so hard on a diet that is low in nutrition over a long period of time without those incredibly important phytonutrients that should be making up a significant part of our plate each meal and I do not like missing out on my fruit and vegetables over such a long period of time that a trek can be. Some people can go trekking for weeks a a time. I contracted a cold towards the end of the trek, and I have a sneaky feeling it was because my body was not as healthy as it normally is.

So, here are some tips  to make your trek healthier and more delicious.

So, the food available at the teahouses are not especially exciting as a vegan so you will want to  bring something to make things a bit more exciting. Cookies are of course fantastic and we went crazy over a pack of Mcvities Ginger Nuts by Day 8 of the trek.  Dark chocolate is a fantastic snack to have on the trek.  A plastic jar of peanut butter is tasty and delicious. Seb thought sways of chocolate dipped in peanut butter was pretty awesome and I have to say I do agree. Ordering chapattis and spreading them with peanut butter and rolling them up and putting them in a zip lock is a good snack to have. Dried seaweed snacks are also great to have in your bag. Although not calorie dense, they are a fantastic (and light) source of vitamins and minerals. In Asia the are a huge array of seaweed snacks available. I brought this one.

You can also bring dried vegetables on the trek too. I stocked up on some from Thailand called Betterday but I am sure which ever country you are from there will be dried vegetable snacks that you can stock up on. Another thing you might like to bring is soy milk powder. Most of the milk available on the mountain is dried cows milk so asking the guesthouse to make up some powdered soy milk should not be a problem and this will open up a few more options on the trek. Granola bars are also good things to take. Although carbohydrates and sugar is not really something that is difficult to find in the mountains, if they are made from whole grains, then it would be a good source of fibre and nutrients something that is lacking up there.

Green powders would be a fantastic thing to include in your backpack. Normally, you would not put even powders in water as it would not taste particularly nice.  I put my green powders in a smoothie where the taste would be disguised but smoothies are not really an option on the mountain. I would probably just add a spoon to the last dregs of my water bottle and drink it down to get some nutrition in to my body. The last thing I would probably like to bring is some sort of seasoning. Gomashio or a small bag of nutritional yeast will be light, but some sprinkled on your food will give some good flavour and of course great vitamins and minerals.

Negotiating with staff at the guesthouses is very easy indeed. They are usually very good English speakers and understand the concept of vegetarianism, indeed, they eat mainly vegetarian food. Vegan is not a term they are familiar with, but it is easy to ask questions like “does this have milk, eggs, cheese?” Or “can go make this without cheese?” For example.

So that is all I have got. I hope this gives you some ideas about how you make  you trek more nutritious. If you have any more ideas to make Nepal treks a bit more healthy, please leave them in the comments below.

Post Cleanse Reflection

I arrived back from my amazing summer trip about 3.5 kilos heavier than when I left and I was feeling seriously bloated and bleurgh. I often look forward to coming back home for a couple of reasons. 1. I get to see the cats and 2. I can get back in to my normal habits with eating and exercise. For me, I wanted to get back to eating properly and ideally lose the weight that I had put on over the holiday. These were my big priorities alongside getting started with my new position at school.

I decided I was going to do a cleanse when I came back from the USA before I even left for Canada. I even knew which one. I bought a copy of Ani’s 15-Day Fat Blast and it was waiting for me in Canada. Even the timing of the cleanse worked out well as Seb decided to prolong his trip by 2 weeks. I had the sneaky suspicion that he might not be in to this cleanse business as much as I would be.

Ani’s Book

On arrival, I was so excited to see that it would be easy to do in Indonesia although I did purchase some of the super foods that the book specified as I knew they wouldn’t be available there. I bought things like hemp protein powder and green matcha powder but I certainly don’t think you need to have them to get the same results as they could be easily substituted or omitted.

What is the cleanse about? The food on the cleanse is pretty much 100% raw. Ani divides the cleanse into 3 parts. The first 3 days are smoothies and cold soups only. The next 4 days add a salad in to the 5 daily meals mix and in the last 7 days more of a main meal is added in the evening. There is a wide range of different ingredients used to make the recipes and all of the ingredients have their own nutritional benefits. When you are doing this cleanse you are really just getting a huge range of very healthy foods in to your body.

Observations about the cleanse itself: First of all, I really don’t like the term cleanse. Sadly, these days there are so many negative associations with this word. You hear about the cayenne pepper and maple syrup cleanse and it just sounds ridiculous. However, to me, this actually was a cleanse  in the true sense of the word. It was about eating incredibly healthy food, rebooting my system after a few weeks of indulgence and hopefully installing some new habits. I think it is usually completely pointless to go straight back to what you were eating before a cleanse. I think you need to have some take aways and I really did from this experience. I am under no delusions that something magical happened to me to lose weight. I know that I lost weight because the calories I ate were less than the calories I expended which led to a calorie deficit. Ani talks about coconut oil being a fat burner. I am a little skeptical about this and many of the claims she made in her book as they were not properly referenced. I did do a calorie count of some of the days meals and I was certainly would have had a significant deficit each day however, the challenge with dieting is eating enough to feel satiated. Ani’s plan managed to do this most of the time probably due to the use of nuts and plenty of foods chock-a-block of fibre. I should also add that I stuck to the cleanse 100% with only a couple of dish or ingredient substituions when needed.

Reasons for doing the cleanse: Like I stated above. I wanted to lose the weight I had gained on holiday and feel a bit less bloated. I also wanted to try 100% raw for a while and follow a program that was quite rigid so I could see if there were any results. I also needed a bit of a reboot after a very decadent summer, try some more things and get in to some new habits. I also wanted to see what would happen if I went without gluten for 15 days. Would it make me feel any different like so many people say?

Positives:

  • I liked most of the food and some of it was surprisingly very good. It was quick and easy to prepare. Every work evening I would make dinner for that night and then breakfast, snack, lunch and snack for the next day. That’s 5 different things! I would say that I spend about 1 hour in the kitchen in the evening. Not too long considering.
  • I especially loved all the wonderful breakfast smoothies. Some of the combinations like ginger mint and pear, lime ginger shake were fantastic.
  • The food kept well in the fridge. This meant I could prepare food the night before and just take it to work.
  • I didn’t get to weigh myself until the end of the day 2 due to the batteries being empyty in my scale. My weight at the end of day 2 was 66.5kg. On the morning of day 16 at the end of the cleanse it was 62.4kg. That’s a total of 4 kg!  This was really exciting for me. I like the idea that I can just do a few days of eating this way if the kilos pile on and get rid of them. I felt so much lighter than before.

Negatives:

  • I didn’t like all the dishes. Some of them were only just edible for me (perhaps 10% of the total recipes). Luckily I am just one of those people that can usually get something I am not keen on down the hatch regardless. This would have been a bigger problem for someone who only likes to eat things that they like.
  • Secondly, I did get hungry from time to time. This was much more of a problem at the weekends. During the week when I was busy at school then there wasn’t usually time to get peckish and to stand in front of the fridge. The weekends when I was wandering around the house was much more of a problem as the meals didn’t keep me full for as long. This I find very telling. It shows that I often eat when I am bored / or have time on my hands. I didn’t think I was an emotional eater, but I might be when I’m bored. I need to work on strategies to deal with these feelings.
  • It wasn’t very social to be on a cleanse. I had to take my food with me when going out the the mall and eating it (during fasting month) was a bit of a challenge but I guess I am used to that. 🙂
  • For some people not used to vegan or raw food this might be a challenge. There are funny ingredients and very different foods to a the diet that most people eat. Lots of cold soups might freak some people out. This might lead to people giving up. I wouldn’t recommend it to people who are looking to try to go vegan as they might not be able to do it and then give up on veganism. I would recommend it to people who were fully open and committed to make drastic changes in their diet to see if it gives them results.
  • I would have liked to see a nutritional breakdown of the recipes. Of course, we can do it ourselves, but I think it adds a certain amount of validity to the book to have that. Also, on the 15 day meun plan I wish page numbers for the recipe could have been included. Going back to the index all the time was annoying. The book did have a very cheap feel to it and I also saw some problems with the index.
  • The groceries for the cleanse were a bit more expensive than I would normally spend. I had to have lots of avocados and also berries which were out of season. The “superfoods” I purchased were pricey as they always are, but I will be using long after the cleanse is over so during the cleanse they were not that expensive for the duration of the cleanse.

My Takeaways:

  • I will be reusing many of the recipes from her cleanse on a regular basis as I enjoyed them so much. I will also prepare my morning shakes the evening before and possibly a snack shake for lunch or a snack.
  • I’ll try to stick to similar portion sizes and snack on low calorie fruit and vegetables when needed. I love to eat and can put food away like nobody’s business, but I often find that the more I eat, the more my appetite increases. Keeping a moderate appetite will help keep me balanced.
  • I am also going to cut down on the amount of grains that I eat and try to have one or two serves a day only. Grains (even wholegrains) are high in calories and not very high in nutrition (compared to leafy greens for example). Of course, I love grains but I don’t think it is realistic for me to keep them out of the diet. I don’t want to and don’t need to (Seb wouldn’t like to be 100% raw and I don’t want to be cooking different meals) but limiting them to a couple of serves a day will help keep my calorie intake low.
  • I will try to eat 100% raw for two meals a day. I will try to eat very high % raw at the weekends.
  • Miso is my new BFF. Many of the savoury dishes called for some miso and it just adds that Umami flavour that most of us really like. I am sure this is when turned a dish from meh to really delicious.
  • I would certainly do this cleanse again if I put on weight or felt a bit bleurgh.

If you are interested in doing this cleanse, check out Ani’s book.

Intelligence Squared Debate

Intelligence Squared is a forum for debates of the current day issues. The speakers are smart, well-respected and eloquent. As I have learnt, it’s a great forum for some smart discussions.

A couple of months ago a debate happened in Melbourne.The title of the debate was “Meat Should Be Off the Menu”. One of the proponents, Philip Wolleen, a man I had never heard of before did a stirring speech for his segment. This went round the veg blogosphere like crazy. When I watched it, I had goosebumps and it moved me to tears. The passion with which he delivered his argument was incredible. I could almost feel the atmosphere in that debate room.

If you only have a short amount of time, please listen to his stirring speech.

I finally watched the whole debate. I was interested to see what the people opposing the issue would say. Would they have some fair points? Spoiler alert. They didn’t.

If you are a behavioral omnivore looking to see both sides of the debate and see whether the smartest people out there who can debate this issue are able to convince you that what you are doing is right or if perhaps there is another way.

The opposition’s arguments are weak to say the least. So incredibly weak even I can argue them conclusively. I wish they had to produce their sources for their arguments as if they did I am convinced they would be blown out of the water. In fact, one of the questions from the audience at the end asked for the peer-reviewed source for one of the speakers against the proposition who was talking about methane being required to keep the bacteria in the soil in a good state which was her ONLY argument. Could she produce it? No… The reason? The research hasn’t happened yet.

1. They referred several times to countries that still rely on animals such as the Hmong people in Northern Vietnam or the Mongolians raising yak. This arguments always makes me laugh and it is usually meat-eaters from the west. OK. I will concede that it will take some strategizing to help these people find a different way to support themselves but is that reason for YOU to keep eating meat. If that’s all you’ve got, then you need to look carefully at yourself and look at the arguments for taking meat off the menu.

2. One of the people against the motion states that there is not enough land for growing crops for the world. For me this absolutely doesn’t make any sense. Given that half of the world’s grain is grown for livestock the maths doesn’t add up.

3. “It would be unAustralian to take meat off the menu”. I mean… Seriously? Using our ethics of the past to explain what we do in the future. If we continued to follow this argument to its logical conclusion then we’d still be beating our wives, women wouldn’t have the vote and we’d still be keeping slaves.

4. “It’s natural.” This is a joke. There is no conclusive evidence to say that we know exactly what it was that our distant ancestors ate so this argument should be taken off the table until such a time it is agreed by researchers that we DID actually eat considerable amount of meat as caveman. I always thing it is hilarious that the ONLY time we like comparing ourselves to cavemen is when we want to continue eating meat.Don’t we pride ourselves on how far we’ve come?

5. “It’s my choice” Yeah… It’s your choice to choose what book to read, wear your hair and what you study. But as soon as your choices start impacting someone else then we have a problem. It’s our choice to drink alcohol, but it is not our choice once we decide to drink and drive.

6. “My grandparents are alive and well at 92 and they ate meat.” Anecdotal evidence of a couple of individuals is not the yardstick to measure the amount of cardio vascular disease or cancer in our society. He needs to read Bad Science.

7. “In order to keep them alive, we need to kill them.” Seriously? They are referring to rare breeds  that were bred and created by us. I have no problem if these creatures become extinct. Would it really matter compared to all of the other arguments?

I especially liked the questions from the audience. The people in the audience were obviously a smart bunch of people. And you know what? The poll taken from the members of the audience at the end? 76 % agreed that animals SHOULD be taken off the menu based on the arguments put forward.

When it comes down to it. Behavioral omnivores eat meat because they want to and because they can. You might not know HOW to make the change to a plant-based diet, but there are so many resources to help you do it. Give me a bell. I’ll help you and it won’t cost you a cent.