A Tenderhearted Kid Goes Vegan…and a lesson on the architecture of the mind.

In summer of 2010 I read Diet for A New America by John Robbins. John is Baskin-Robbins c0-founder Irv Robbins only son. He grew up eating a lot of ice cream, sometimes with every meal. As he got older, he started to notice his father’s and uncle’s health deteriorate and wondered if that had anything to do with their dairy heavy diet and largley sedentary lifestyle. The more he learned about food and nutrition the more his suspicions were confirmed. He could have been the legitimate heir of an ice cream empire, rich and successful. Instead, he abandoned all that to become vegan, move to Canada with his wife and start a garden. Needless to say, Robbins advocates a plant-based diet for ethical, environmental and health reasons. He is a bestselling author, social activist, and humanitarian. He is the recipient of the Rachel Carson Award, the Albert Schweitzer Humanitarian Award, the Peace Abbey’s Courage of Conscience Award, and Green America’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

I went vegan right after I read the book. Completely, right away. No doubt in my mind. How can you not be inspired by him? How can you not respect, trust and listen to someone whos personal choices speak louder than any words ever can? Someone who gave up so much for what he believed in?

And if that doesn’t do it for you, maybe this will.

John-Robbins-at-age-65

That’s him at 65.

Now, being the tenderhearted kid that I am, the section of the book that talks about animal cruelty in the food industry, affected me deeply. There were tears involved. And sleepless nights. And no, I’m NOT being dramatic. Believe me, I can be. This was one of those situations where something impacts you so deeply, the emotion that follows is completely outside of your control. It catches you off guard, it illumintaes your soul and it changes your life. If you let it.

Going vegan was not easy. I come from Albania. Growing up in communism, meat was a rare luxury. But dairy was a staple. And I absolutely loved it. Giving up dairy is one of the hardest things I have ever done. Having said that, going vegan was a no-brainer really. I actually struggled more with the question “why isn’t everyone vegan??” I wondered, how can someone learn about how animals are treated or how meat and dairy affect your health, or how much damage we are causing to the environment by eating animals, and STILL eat animals??

Well, today I have the answer.

It’s called compartmentalization (you know I couldn’t stay away from psychanalyzing people for long)

Compartmentalization is a concept that started in architecture. It was decided, that in order to prevent a fire from spreading in a building, walls were needed. So you create rooms and if you shut the door on the one the fire originated from, you can successfully contain the fire. This happens to the human mind as well. We build rooms, separated by thick walls. We keep certain things in certain rooms and we try not to mix things too much. Of course, if there is a problem in one room, all you have to do is shut the door and walk away. Out of sight, out of mind. If you don’t see it, it doesnt exsist. Just like in preventing fire from spreading, this is an efficient way to maintain sanity, in a world full of suffering, hunger, poverty, death, crime, injustice, etc etc. If we see a homeless person beggin for money on the corner, we look the other way. Or we tell ourselves stories about that person to lessen the pain that comes from naturally empathizing with someone’s suffering.

We compartmentalize. That’s why an obese person can continue to eat junk and not excercie, an addict can ignore his child, a criminal can kill (with the exception of psychopaths), a priest can live a lie…this is how a loving dog owener and animal lover can eat meat. Not all animals are created equal, right? Not all humans deserve the same life? Survival of the fitest. Eat or get eaten. Isn’t that the reason why we don’t eat carnivors? Or is it because their meat doesn’t “taste” good?

The mind of a tenderhearted kid is a wide open space. The walls are thin and fire spreads pretty quickly. You just can’t ignore that kind of contamination. You simply have no choice but to do something. And that doing something ALWAYS means doing something TOUGH. Something you don’t want to do. Walls are easy. All you have to do is shut the door.

So you might say that the reason I’m vegan is because I can’t ignore things that bother me. This is also the reason I am where I am in my life on so many levels. You could argue, that if compartmentalization is a healthy diffense mechanism for the mind, then an inablity to compartmentalize would lead to mental distress or illness. And you would be right. People like me may be happy. But they are always in pain about something. They are tormented souls who think and care deeply. It sucks. “We feel too much”- If I had a penny for everytime I heard a client say that. Boy, can I relate.

But is it really that we are sensitive or is it that we make an effort to break down the walls in our own mind and make some tough choices? (If you think sensitive people are weak, I invite you to consider the courage it takes to take on something as easy as therapy.)

This is not about going vegan.

Of course, I would love it if everyone was.

This is about breaking down the walls. What are you compartmentalizing in your life? Are you really containing fires efficiently? What if being wide open could be the ultimate path to freedom, self-actualization, happiness? It would be hard yes, but wouldn’t it be worth it?

I only hope one day someone thinks of me and goes “that tenderhearted fool had some balls”

 

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