Vegan Al: Cool Under Pressure, 2020

I had the pleasure of interviewing Allen Eckert this month in Pennsylvania, and found out just how many myths Al has busted! Take a look.

Hi, Allen! Thank you so much for taking the time to offer some details of your own vegan journey to others who might be inspired or otherwise informed by your experience. 

First, before we get into your story, how do you explain “vegan” to others?

When someone tells me they are vegan, my first thought is: “Really?”

Often, their next words will be: Except for fish. Or eggs. Or “CHEESE! I can’t live without cheese.” 

To me, being vegan is the conscious decision to do my best to not exploit. I would rather like to be called an anti-exploitationist. It is an ideal I know I can’t achieve, but it’s there to remind me whenever I ask myself: “Is this OK to eat, wear, watch or tolerate without giving a speech?”

Could you say something about what you do for a living?

I am currently a tractor trailer driver, and have been since 1996. It is a far cry from the 12 years prior, when I worked at a pig slaughterhouse.

What is the hardest part of being vegan in your job? 

Luckily working by myself doesn’t pose any ethical or logistical problems. There was a time when my job required me to stay on the road for a day or two. Then, finding places to eat presented minor problems.

Does your occupation inform your vegan perspective in any particular way? 

Not that I can think of. I am sincerely happy that I don’t have to make the hard decisions that many ethical vegans do. My hat is off to the people working in retail, food service, pharmaceutical, or even transportation. Many have to face shelves of animal-tested products or animal flesh, or pull loads of cruelty—situations over which they have no control. 

Allen, you are working through a major health crisis. Does being vegan offer you a unique perspective on this pandemic? 

Only that I wonder how many diseases would be prevented if humanity had lived an animal-free life. All of the pandemics and epidemics and even the seasonal influenzas that I can think of have their origins linked to animal agriculture or exploitation. 

So, food! What is an example of what you like to eat at home, and could you tell us how to get it or make it? 

My wife and I love to work in the kitchen. I worked in restaurant kitchens when I was in high school and for a few years before I got married. I learned the basics and don’t have problems converting recipes and creating new items. Most of our dinners are stir-fries. Brussel sprouts and mushrooms are often featured. We forage a little bit. We just ate a bunch of fiddlehead ferns. They were excellent. Next month I’ll be picking wild raspberries. We always have a butternut squash on the counter waiting to be roasted. Kale, tomatoes, sweet potatoes and tomatoes don’t last long in the kitchen. Crock pot soups and chili sans carne are winter staples. I am not big on recipes. I use whatever I have. It is hard to make a bad meal when using lots of different fresh, whole ingredients.

What is an example of what you like to eat on the road, and could you tell us how to get it or make it?

I really don’t eat much during work. When I was a runner, I would make a fruit and kale recovery smoothie and fill a thermos. Now, a thermos of coffee and a couple of fig bars do the trick. 

Other than eating, what do you do differently now that you’re vegan?

Do you mean besides looking down my nose at all the lower lifeforms that haven’t realized all the harm they are doing to the world yet? I don’t do that nearly as much as I used to. 

I don’t wear animals. I don’t enjoy entertainment that exploits them. I try to be conscious of my actions, and what outcome I might have on the world, or the moment. Today I was digging from a pile of dirt on my driveway. I disturbed a hill of ants. I could have just dug in and done what I needed to do. The dirt will have to be moved. I moved to the other side of the pile and dug there. I came back a little later and tested the original dig, the ants had retreated some. I dug, and repeated the process. It may seem silly, but I felt better. I hope the ants felt better too with time to relocate. Stinkbugs and spiders get escorted out of the house. So, I guess, Do as little harm as possible is a directive evolved from my veganism.

Allen, when and why did you become vegan?

My wife Cissy and I made the journey into veganism together. In 2007 I was diagnosed with Hepatitis-C. I also had stage 3 liver disease as a result. I am fully recovered now. Cissy was reading an article and suggested, in an effort to get healthier, we try vegetarianism. I was 48 at the time. We continued dairy for a long time. About two years. Podcasts came into my world around 2009. I started learning about the harm we do to ourselves and our environment. But that pales in comparison to the cruelty we inflict on animals. One podcast introduced me to a documentary: Got the Facts on Milk? We left vegetarianism for veganism the next day. Mama cows crying for their babies still haunt me. We also watched Forks Over Knives and Vegucated. We read several books. There really isn’t a logical reason not to change.

What would you say to people who are curious about becoming vegan themselves?

I first ask them why they are curious. And thoroughly examine those reasons. While it can be healthy, I don’t think it is a reason that sticks. I tell them to examine their reasons for wanting a difference in their life. Information is everywhere. 

Do you have thoughts on why some people go vegan and others don’t, although similar information is available to both? 

I hate to think it, but I am more convinced every day that there are two types of people. There are people that care, and people that don’t. Subsets within these groups surely exist. Like people that hide from truths. And people that minimalize the things they know. 

Conversely, people that care can be complacent, or lazy, or underestimate the effects they can have in society. I’m sure I fall into that group somewhere, at least at times. 

Has anyone become a vegan because of your influence?

My mother saw the light after 78 years, and her health has benefited greatly! My daughter is carrying the tradition on and raising her daughter vegan as well. I hope I have an effect as part of the collective.

Allen, you once hunted. Vegans surely don’t think of hunters as low-hanging fruit when they look for communities to persuade. Are they right that hunters are unlikely candidates for becoming vegan? 

I think hunting families have a tough tradition to crack. I didn’t have a close relationship with my father. I got interested in target shooting when I was around 12. I joined a shooting club and became pretty good. It wasn’t until I was around 30 that I started hunting with some friends from work. I didn’t have those family bonding moments and memories to overcome.

Do you think it is unusual for a hunter to become vegan? 

While I think it is unusual, I see it as possible. I think people that live their lives with the desire to learn as many truths as possible can be reasoned into any true position. It all depends on the desire to be honest about your positions, and change when the information warrants it. Dairy farmers have changed. Pig farmers have changed. Doctors and lawyers have changed. Slaughterhouse workers have changed. Why not hunters? I fell into the last two categories.

Do you think vegan advocates spend enough time on the issue of hunting animals? 

We must face the fact that very few wild animals would ever die of old age. Nature red in tooth and claw and all. Most hunters, but not nearly all, pride themselves on one-shot kills and dropping in his tracks. Seems gross now. 

I haven’t met anyone who wants to inflict pain and suffering. While hunting is exploitation, and the same experience could be achieved with a camera, I think this is more of an ecological issue than a humane or cruelty issue. The turmoil we inflict on the earth and all its finely balanced systems, and creatures, including us humans, is just too sad. 

Today, game has a different meaning for you. You are a board gamer who developed a farm animal refuge game. Do you think gaming can be influential in a vegan shift?

I don’t know about a shift. But I think every time we can say the word, or express the concepts of veganism, we should. Just to let anyone thinking about it know they are not alone. That someone else is doing it, and thriving.

Some of your game pieces represent foxes. Why did you include those in the refuge scene?

I include the foxes to let the players know that farmed animals aren’t the only animals that need to be considered. And foxes are beautiful.

Could you say a few words on what might be hardest for you, psychologically or otherwise, about living a vegan life?

That we know there is a better way to live. And then, to be incapable of conveying the principles of empathy and compassion to others. Even to the people we know already have empathy and compassion. Living every day, knowing the suffering continues with no end in sight, tends to make me nihilistic. Not in an anarchy type of way. More of a uselessness.

Any ideas that may be helpful to others who might experience similar struggles?

Knowing that any act of humanity I make has a positive influence on somebody, man or beast, makes it worthwhile. No one person will save the world. We all must find solace in knowing that we and our actions are less the problem, and more the cure.

In what direction do you hope the vegan community will go? What should be emphasized?

In every direction. Let everyone know you are vegan. People need to know who you are. Your position will not be taken seriously until it is a movement. People cannot change if they are not aware a viable option. Let everyone know that someone they know is happy and healthy in their decision to be compassionate. The word Vegan is in my Instagram moniker. I compete in bearding competitions all around the country. These competitions are now online, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but I still let everyone I meet know:  I am Vegan Al. I wear the vegan message on hats, pins, and shirts. 

And lest anyone think all vegans take themselves too seriously, here is a photo of your recent first-place beard win! (Congrats!) Anything else you’d like to leave us with, Vegan Al?

I think most people are compassionate. It’s all about where they draw their lines. It starts with one’s self. If you stop there, you are a sociopath. You could move the line to your companions and family. Your companion animals may have a position inside your line. Where to draw the line next? Does the line move to heritage? Social groups? Religion? Species, domestic or wild? I hope we all find a point when we can start removing lines and realize that we all suffer. We all deserve the right to live as we are without these artificial lines designed to separate. Help when you can. If you can’t, get out of the way so someone else can.

Remember, don’t let perfection get in the way of doing the best you can. Just be honest about what is your best. One of my favorite quotes is by Maya Angelou. Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better.

Thank you, Lee, for approaching me for this interview, and the chance to open up and express my views. I hope my answers inspire somebody to look at their own reasons for the way they live. 

Photos courtesy of Allen Eckert (banner image: Thomas B. from Pixabay).

Radical Resilience

Vegan Summerfest, scheduled for the first week of July at the University of Pittsburgh campus in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, is cancelled. Even if Gov. Tom Wolf opens up Cambria County by July, the social distancing rules make a conference for hundreds of people logistically unmanageable.

Previous participant surveys show that numerous Summerfest attendees commit to becoming vegan each year. For many vegan-curious people, the event’s blend of social and educational elements clicks. But the virus does not discriminate based on the intent or benefits of an event.

I’m disoriented by the loss of Vegan Summerfest 2020 and everything it stands for, and yet I have been warning that these disasters would unfold since I was first invited to speak at Summerfest 16 years ago. This is not to be “oh-well” or glib. This is damned upsetting. Here we have the results of one group of apes abusing its privileges on the planet. With this group’s global population as dense and intrusive as it is, a dangerous virus can move through physical bodies and natural settings quickly.

Veganism should be part of the global response. It will help us become respectful members of our greater biological community, because vegan living frees people from having to work in viciously unsafe, unhygienic, and macabre animal processing settings. Veganism is health-affirming. It is comparatively protective of land, air, and bodies of water. It is low-carbon, low-methane, and generally more resource-frugal than other approaches to living.

I’d like to help my fellow human apes make these connections. Supporting whatever might be in us that warrants the term sapiens.

We’re never getting to “normal” again in our lifetimes. Infections change as climates do, so it’s time to expect much more of the unexpected — whether it’s resurgences, mutations, new viruses, or the other stuff that’s coming along with biodiversity breakdown and climate crisis. We ain’t seen nothing yet.

No time like the present to make real, root-level changes. In the months ahead, I’ll be pressing some key points:

• Can quarantine mean a respectful (rather than user-oriented) attitude to nature?
• Can social distancing mean refraining from invading the remaining forests?
• Can we transcend the culture of confinement?
• Can the human apes find ways to stop hoarding the prosperity we get at our environment’s expense — undoing incentives to extract and store?

Remember that “resilience” in the face of crisis means asking deep questions about why our modern crises emerge. And that “affluence” is not a reservoir, but something that flows.

Wisdom We Have Forsaken: Jack McMillan on the Covid Crisis

So tired of it all, all the endless “debate” and confusion and angst about this current Covid crisis. It’s making me dizzy. 

It’s real, and we are dealing with it I guess best we can…or not. And it will play itself out as it will, in spite of how bogged down we are in all the confusions and all these competing theories and all the varied and disparate solutions surrounding this real yet unreal crisis. We’re all enmeshed in the tertiary branches of this unfolding saga of chaos and confusion, which is understandable, yet we also need to think about the deeper existential crisis facing us, and try going to some of the roots of our obvious dysfunctionalities as a society and as a species.  The real crisis, beneath the surface of this one, seems to me to be how we have given up our authority to think and feel for ourselves and tap into our own inner wisdoms about life, from which come simple revelations and even simpler answers. We are totally alienated from our connection to life and nature. We are living in a closed system of human alienation from the Earth, stuck in the prison of our out-of-control brains disconnected from the simplicity and wisdom of our hearts. Mind informing heart instead of heart informing mind.

And within that disconnect, we have become, as a collective, lost in space and swirling in a tower of babble, now in its current iteration over this virus. But it’s been going on for at least 10,000 years, this babble and disconnect, ever since we stopped being humble mammals on this Earth, and decided to leave nature and subdue, commodify, and dominate “it”, and our fellow animal beings whom we have recast as “its”. 

“It” “worked, for thousands of years, while we always had new frontiers to exploit, whether of other lands, other peoples, or other fellow animal beings, and we could always export our war on life, and import the spoils. And we are now so disconnected from our hearts, and our immediate sensibilities, that we do not even notice, or care about, the ravages in our wake, or that we slaughter over 70 billion fellow animals per year, over 150 million every hour, and trillions of marine beings, for mere titillation of the taste bud. And yet we tell ourselves, in an ultimate of conceit and arrogance, that we are oh-so-kind and caring. As we willfully continue our assault on life, and remain steeped in our prevarications when the Earth and the animals, and now a Covid, ask “What are you doing!?”

But now we have run out of new worlds and new victims to oppress. And it is now coming full circle and closing in on us. Like an organism that has walled itself off from its natural input-throughput relationship to the greater sustaining whole, and begins feeding on itself with a cancer of dis-ease, and in a pilot’s death-spiral, mired in a delusion and an illusion of an altitude of superiority, all the while steering ourselves, in an increasingly rapid descent, toward inevitable annihilation of both self and the mountain.

And on the way to that, we have all manner of self-made crises — coronavirus, climate chaos, species extinction, massive biodiversity loss, looming ecosystems collapse, world hunger, resource wars, ocean death…and on and on and on, while we fiddle and quibble.

What’s the underlying cause of it all? Connect all the dots and we can easily see that it is our arrogant sense of superiority, our hierarchical thinking, and our other-ization of those we perceive to be “lower” than us, who we can then objectify and commodify. Stripped of their personhood, we close them off from our hearts and from any consideration of their sovereign and sacred interests.  

It starts with fellow animal beings we so easily brutalize, and moves on to the Earth “it”self, in a wanton assault to serve our misperceived needs. And it then extends into our human realm, with all manner of injustices heaped upon those we perceive as of lesser “value”. And then it all comes full circle back to us, living in a world of massive injustice and misery and stress and chaos, and existential angst that seeps into our very souls.

Look closely and you will see that everything we have done to the outside world comes back to us and becomes externalized and internalized in our own collective and individual worlds. The suffering and misery and chaos we sow returns to us. And still we twiddle and quibble.  

Bottom line, all the looming crises and issues and problems we see and fret about, and protest and rail about in a sinking futility stem from one source: Our massive failure of heart and compassion toward the “other”, and a refusal to see and feel how the “other” is us, and one and the same.

We talk about humanity being “one big family” but we don’t really believe that or feel that. We talk about having respect for the Earth and fellow animals, and we doubly do not really believe or feel that, and we wage war on both, and then war on each other in a reap of our disconnect.  

Then we say, we must solve human issues first. But that is upside down thinking. “As long as there are slaughterhouses there will be battlefields” (Tolstoy). It must start there. We will never have peace and harmony in the human realm as long as we massively violate the laws of peace and harmony by brutalizing our fellows. And it then becomes, by simple extension of that mindset and heart-set, easy to brutalize and exploit our fellows that are human animals, and our fellow Earth.

As we have seen and experienced now for eons, all our talk and “efforts” of “peace” and “justice” has only amounted to an ever-increasing babble of lament over the failures of same. Perhaps it is time to recognize that our humanocentric approach to life and problems IS the problem in the first place. An approach borne of self-consumed selfishness. “Remote from universal nature”, it can only feed upon itself, and its host. Perhaps it is time to flip the script upside down.  

The slogan “Earth First!” meant something, and something deep. As in a family, altruism is what gives life and sustains the life of the family. “For it is a giving without hope of getting” (Cross). Yet the giving returns the getting 10-fold. It’s the magic of it, in a beautiful revelation of the wisdom of life itself. All it takes is a leap of faith into it. No babble needed.

Fellow animals and the Earth first? Compassion and altruism just might do the trick, where singular human-centered selfishness has failed, throughout all these ages of futility, now closing in on us and the world.

So here we are, caught up in the next virus of our selfishness of insensitivity, and the beat goes on.  

This coronavirus is just the babble of a perversion of another word of exactly the same letters — CARNIVOROUS — now scrambled into a prevarication of the truth that is right in front of us and that has been calling to us for so long now. We are all one. What we do to our fellow animals and the Earth is what we invariably end up doing to ourselves. Sow destruction and misery and murder, and, by the natural laws of life, it returns to us with a proper vengeance, 10-fold in a reverse terribleness of a wisdom we have forsaken.  

The current coronavirus is real. Yet it is just a concretization of something far deeper, and a manifestation of something far more vile. We can hammer away at that concrete, as we are doing, but all it is doing is creating a rubble we will stumble over and then rebuild with brick and mortar into the next monolith of our myopic mindlessness and ruthless heartlessness. Wake up, humans. What we sow we reap. And then what we reap we sow again, ad infinitum. We must stop railing against the reap while ignoring the sow.

And we have to stop making this so complicated. Want to end resource wars, stop climate change, end world hunger, avoid these zoonotic viruses, heal our Earth, create a healthy and just society, save fellow animals from our brutality, and heal our spiritual malaise? Just go vegan now — dietarily, ethically, environmentally, and justly. The rest will naturally take care of itself. Nothing short of that will ever bring peace and harmony to our world. Or end the babble of our discontent.  

—  Jack McMillan. Founding board member, Cleveland Vegan Society.

Banner photo: Adam Nieścioruk, via Unsplash.

Two-Minute Video Message for Earth Day

Earth Day is this coming week: Wednesday the 22nd of April. Maybe it’s fitting that so many of us will be staying at home.

Let our quarantine mean halting our continual invasions of nature, our trafficking of Earth’s other living communities…

Let us practise social distancing from the habitats of others.

Here is my message on YouTube.

Sunday 19 April: Veggie Pride Online

As you might remember, I march and speak at the NYC Veggie Pride Parade event annually and would normally be up in NYC this weekend! Well, now everyone can be present for the live, online event. Kudos to Maggie Sargent, with support from Joel Mittentag, for producing the event online. NEW DATE! To attend live online this Sunday, 19 April 2020, go here:

https://www.facebook.com/veggieprideNYC/

This will be a Facebook Watch Party… HERE IS THE LINEUP:

______________

Veggie Pride Parade banner by: Rachel Bea.

Examine Your Own Cultural Practices, Senator Cornyn

Senator John Cornyn, justifying Donald Trump’s use of “Chinese virus” and other inappropriate names for COVID-19, says:  

People eat bats and snakes and dogs and things like that. These viruses are transmitted from the animal to the people, and that’s why China has been the source of a lot of these viruses.

But outside of making a case for veganism, who gets to call anyone out for animal use?

Kindly read my latest article for CounterPunch and share it further if you’re so inclined.