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Sunday, April 8, 2012

My 19th Veggi-versary

[This essay was originally posted to "The Third Tale," a blog on Weebly. In transferring it I have updated and made corrections where necessary.]

Image [was] available on a T-Shirt at [the sire seems to be gone]

It all began one day 19 years ago when I was sitting in the Jack-in-the-Box drive-thru line waiting for my two hamburgers, two fries and a Coke--at 7:30 in the morning.

Yes, that was a typical breakfast for me in my carnivorous days, and as I sat in the parking lot of my school eating cow's flesh, I thought, "Why am I doing this?"

And I quit. That was my last karma-inducing meal.

That wasn't the first time I had quit. I was once dating a TV star and having long, deep, spiritual discussions with her. One day she said, "What would it be like to live in the consciousness that nothing ELSE with consciousness has died to keep you alive?"

So for six weeks we supported each other in "veg trials." Then, one day, when the staff was off and we had to cook for ourselves, she said, "I want a big-ol' bloody steak." And she didn't mean "English bloody," she meant "bloody-bloody."

And that was dinner, and that was that.

So when "the sky opened," it wasn't a completely new idea.

Although I had been dating a "foodie" who had made me think more about what I ate, it wasn't completely about the food.

In fact, she was The Girlfriend From Hell, and we were having mucho problems at the time. I was also still in the final throes of the post-divorce blues, and things were starting to get a little wobbly at work.

In short, my life was a mess.

And this was one way I could take control. (Though Lord knows it got even worse later--another story.)

That was on April 8th, 1993, a day which I later found is Hana Matsuri ("Flower Festival") in Japan, the day the Japanese celebrate the Buddha's birthday. (It's the 8th day of the 4th lunar month on some calendars; but since the Meiji Era, the Japanese have just moved most of their traditional celebrations, including New Years, to the Western calendar.)

But I had no Buddhist inclinations at the time, at least not formally. When I quit, it was largely about non-sectarian Compassion-with-a-capital-C.

Fortunately I had a few veg friends around me who gave me some guidance in how to do it, but it has not always been without its challenges.

There was, for example, the time I moved to Utah to live with the Urich family (more about them next week). How could I ask Luisa from The Sound of Music (aka Heather Menzies, aka Mrs. Robert Urich) to cook something aside from the family meal, just for me?

As it turns out, their daughter was already veg, so the problem was no problem.

Next was my move to Japan, a real problem as virtually every dish there includes either fish or, for curries, pork. Fortunately I found Indian restaurants everywhere, and Subway Sandwiches. Burger King was also accommodating with the "Veggie Wop-pah," and the Japanese Mos Burger chain had a nice "kimpira rice burger."

I've faced a similar problem in China, but the longer I live here, the more dining choices I find (and eating at home is easier here, especially since Lila moved in). But when I go on pilgrimage, it can still be a little tough, especially in small towns.

"But wait?" you ask. "Aren't Japan and China 'Buddhist' countries?"

Well, sorta. But just because Buddhism has been historically strong here doesn't mean everyone's veg (quite the contrary!).

Still, I have managed to go 19 years now with only one intentional lapse in my discipline, and that was to eat the worm from a bottle of mescal on my 45th birthday in a bar in Tokyo.

Other than that, I've always managed to find something; as my girth will attest, I ain't starving.

So here's to a continued "one-day-at-a-time" of giving sentient beings a break. It has kept me focused on compassion, and therefore on an overall more "ethical" way of being. It makes me a nicer guy to have to "think peace" several times a day (for those who think I'm an a-hole, imagine if I were still a meat-eater!)

It has also made me healthier. I spent much of my life being sick; my vege-conversion came along just a few years after my immune system started to recover from my childhood illnesses, and I can't help but think eating veg has solidified my gains.

And it has brought me the love of my life, my co-veg Lila, as well as numerous great friends in several countries (the Philippines, Indonesia, India, Japan, and more) who share with me at least this part of my path. I thank you for the support, guys, and our "dumb" brothers and sisters with fur, fins, and feathers thank you too.

Anyone wanna join us? The web is rife with resources, and I'll be glad to answer any specific questions that I can.



I beat you by a few years. I stopped eating fish and meat in 1988. I did not trust the British government when it said you could not catch mad cow disease from eating mad cows. I still do not eat meat or fish. Coming to think of it I still do not trust the British government.


My Reply:

Thanks, G-man. You were my first comment on this new blog! And you always remember your first. BTW Are you SURE some madness hasn't crept in somehow?


Miles McClain:

Very inspiring, James. Our youngest son, Daniel, who is 29, suffers from celiac disease and years ago he had to cut out all gluten products. About a month ago he decided to go veg! He has made the transition well even though he has the additional challenge of no gluten products. His motivation was health and his embracing buddhist teachings. I have great respect for his effort, because, like you point out, finding a place to eat and learning a new way to approach your diet and cooking, can be a challenge.


My Reply:

What a challenge! But I'm sure Daniel's finding tons of resources on the net; I have a few "gluten-free veg" friends on Twitter. The physical and spiritual pay-offs will be worth it. I noticed you had some interesting-looking veg recipes on Pinterest; the latkes look great!

Thanks for bringing in the family--three of my four current email subscribers are McClains!

Categories: Bio, China, Compassion, Karma, Mindfulness, Peace, Spirituality, Vegetarianism

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