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Vegan for the Holidays

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Vegetarians in Paradise
Words from Other Birds

From time to time Vegetarians in Paradise presents informative articles by guest contributors on subjects of interest to vegetarians and vegans. This month we feature an essay by Ben Arie Swets, phototographer and filmmaker. Ben has filmed 12 documentaries on environmental health. He has shot still photography for hospitals, utilities, law firms, and LIFE magazine, and has written humorous and quixotic articles which were published in six regional periodicals. His current project is about organic farmers in Iowa.

My First Diet Rules

By Ben Arie Swets

I feel lonely when a hamburger, ice cream slurping unenlightened consumer walks past me. I long for their innocence. If several of them surround me at an office or a holiday meal, I keep my socially conscious diet a secret lest they ask me where I get my protein.

When you care enough about the environment and your own health to swear off animal foods, you will be faced with perpetual challenge from the disenfranchised. You may not have an ample supply of courage and confidence to stand up for your truth. They will force you to debate with an argumentative tone. They probably never listen to reason, no matter how reasonable you may be. They are just scared, the meat eaters. They will do anything to avoid feeling wrong, even if it means punishing you for thinking for yourself.

If you practice what you believe in, there is no need to preach what you practice. The sensitive ones will discover and learn from you no matter how quiet you are, perhaps even because you are quiet. In a world of skeptics, there are seven rules I follow to stay vegan and stay proud.

  1. Feed other people. If I bring my lunch to work, I always bring enough for two. I can usually eat enough for two, but if anybody is curious, I would rather share than explain.

  2. Learn to rest. It is an ongoing project to learn how much energy comes from not eating. Digestion is the hardest work a human does. Fasting from certain things and at certain times can become a source of rebirth. My diet study has introduced me to new levels of rejuvenation. Socially also, I had to learn to rest my voice when critics doubt the value of my commitment to vegan food. When they say I am wrong, I say they are right and I smile.

  3. Get a buddy. If you are refining your diet, make a point of supporting others who are also improving their diets for the same reasons as yours.

  4. Read the finest literature by the most thoughtful vegetarians. My favorites are George Bernard Shaw and Isaac Bashevis Singer. They did not write about nutrition of the body. They wrote about love from the moral vantage point that made them choose to be vegetarians.

  5. Love art. Make your creative energy go into some project bigger than your next meal. Build a business, write to congressional representatives, or make movies. My loneliest times were when I concentrated on meals more than on what they fueled.

  6. Nevertheless make a beautiful sacred place in your home to eat well. Celebrate food's meaning with as much decoration as possible.

  7. Keep under wraps the subject of your favorite foods unless somebody asks. Above all, never mention in public that you are fasting unless you have tons of experience deflecting unwanted advice.

  • Write your own rules, of course. Rules are not the way you must operate. Rules are just the way you find yourself operating most effectively. Do not worry about becoming a spokesperson. As long as you manage to share some of your good food once in a while, you are a powerful political force for animals and ecosystems.

    You may visit Ben Arie Swets's web site at

    Click here for past Words from Other Birds Articles

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