I went vegetarian when I was a small child—quite unconsciously. They say that children’s brains develop the perfect pathways for learning language around seven years of age (so get your second- and third-graders in Spanish immersion class!). I’m guessing it’s not just language skills affected by this cognitive expansion, but many other ways of connecting the symbolic dots. Why? Because that is the precise age at which I put the pieces together and associated the cows—whose noses I was petting in the cages at my grandparents’ slaughterhouse—with the headless, skinned bodies hanging from hooks and bleeding from their necks in the next room.
You see, up until that point, I sincerely didn’t get the correlation. But I remember quite clearly the day I knew one was the other. It took very little time from that point for my mom to recognize that her daughter would not eat the meat dishes at her dinner table. “Do you know what they call people like you, Tonya?” she asked. “Vegetarians.” To which I replied, “What’s a vegetarian?”
So my choice not to eat meat was definitely quite unconscious. All I knew back then was that when I saw the animal-based dishes on the table, my stomach hurt. I was just trying to avoid an upset stomach. I was operating from a child’s genuine emotional wisdom. Sometimes I wish that everyone could live from that place of innocent compassion, unadulterated by training, consumerism and misinformation. I am so thankful that to this day my childhood compassion still lives in me through my vegetarianism.
I also often wish for every child the blessing of a grandparent with a slaughterhouse. Too often meat-eaters today are just unconscious eaters. They purchase frozen beef and bean burritos packaged in neon wrappers and never see the cruelty, pollution and disease associated with their food choice.
But just because one’s conscience may be spared, the residual—sometimes fatal—effects are not. As PETA conveys, “In 2005 a study which was published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, concluded that among the 29,000 participants, those who ate the most meat were also at the greatest risk for heart disease. The researchers also reported that a high intake of protein from vegetable sources such as tofu, nuts, and beans lowers our risk of heart disease by 30 percent.”
With heart disease the single leading cause of death in the United States, it seems we would take the scientific knowledge about the health effects of animal-based diets seriously. If running red lights were the leading cause of preventable death, for example, it is certain we would strictly enforce laws against it. I’m saddened that our health and well-being is being overlooked in favor of business profits.
Not only are proud carnivores endangering their own and their children’s long-term health, but they cannot consider themselves environmentalists while contributing to the water pollution and habitat destruction inherent to meat eating.
The US Environmental Protection Agency, in a Report to Congress in 1984, stated that “Agricultural pesticides and nitrates used in fertilizers and manures seep into our groundwater, eventually spilling out into the oceans creating so-called ‘dead zones’ (expansive areas so toxic that neither plant nor animal life can survive) viewable from space.” And Merritt Frey of the Natural Resources Defense Council reports, “Besides the chemicals used in cultivation, accidental pollution though chemical spills and manure dumps are an ongoing source of water pollution from feedlots. The manure created from the billions of animals killed for food has to go somewhere, and often, it ends up in rivers and streams, killing millions of fish in one fell swoop.”
And simply consider the inefficiencies in the production of meat. It takes 1,800 gallons of water to produce just one pound of beef, but only 55 gallons for one pound of oranges. For the amount of water it takes to produce a pound of beef, a human could drink his required daily intake for 2.4 years. All in all, it defies common sense: Why not just grow food to eat instead of grow food to feed to animals that we kill to eat as food? Not very ecological—even by the most simple reasoning.
And I won’t go into the cruelty and animal issues that invariably occur in the meat-production industry. But I will share a shocking statistic I read in an Emagazine piece entitled “The Case Against Meat”: “Male chicks born on factory farm—as many as 280 million per year—are simply thrown into garbage bags to die because they’re of no economic value as meat or eggs.” Also, according to PETA, “Every year in the US, more than 27 billion animals are slaughtered for food,” and “By switching to a vegetarian diet, you can save more than 100 animals a year personally.”
Really, though, the reason I wish every child to have a set of grandparents with a slaughterhouse is because it was precisely that experience that allowed me to choose my educated vegetarian path while still staying open-minded to those who eat dead animals. After all, my grandparents are lovely and loving people (rest in peace, grammy). And even though my family did not (then) emulate the emotional wisdom of the seven-year-old child, they all supported me by learning to prepare vegetarian dishes in order to feed me and include me in family gatherings.
For me, the real trick over the years has been maintaining my childhood compassion while continuing to love a world that does not yet necessarily get it. Of course, I wish everyone the goodness of life and health that I have experienced from a vegetarian diet. But I also know that the choice to grow in any way must be initiated and upheld by the individual. I am grateful I have had that freedom. And I am supportive of those trying to break free of tradition, training, marketing and an unsustainable system because they feel it inside. Indeed, individual growth must come from within.
It’s a rain forest. Not a jungle.
Unsure of the distinction here in the crumply volcanic mountains of Costa Rica, covered with fronds so cartoonishly massive I feel like “Eat Me” must have been inscribed on something I, Alice, ate today (probably that string bean – seemed to have some sigil to it’s skin). This jungle – pardon me: rain forest – features highlights from southern California’s all-star house plant team – growing in technicolor so vibrant, the Wizard of Oz is envious. In dimentions so numerous, Avitar’s eyes cast downward. With fruit so abundant, a raw foodist stops making mental meal maps. Twenty feet high, these jungle giants; fruiting, flowering … outdoors.
Quite a jaunt from Playa Caletas on the Nicoya Peninsuala, where I was living on a quite uninhabited beach without running water nor electricity. We flushed by carrying water from the ocean and pouring it down the stool. It was one hundred degrees and too hot to do anything but hammock the day. At night we tracked turtles til sunrise. The ocean was never clam nor quiet; the waves a constant 10 feet or higher, the moon; a dramatic actor giving show stopping performances come 3am. I held hundreds of ancient endangered sea turlte babies one by one between my thumb and forefinger before setting them to sand, whispering a silent “grow” and midwifing them from protected nest to wild water destiny with an easy release.
But here in the rain forest, where I’ve come to partake of the plant medicines ayahuasca, peyote and sacred tobacco, the continuous cacaophony of deafening ocean orchestration is replaced by the fairy brigade’s soft shoe sonnet of gentle rain drops across some far above overhead canopy. Here we flush with saw dust.
I am a plant worshiper. By goddess, it’s practically a religion at this point (I surely have been saved). I firmly expeirence plants as intelligent beings, each one a teacher with wisdom to impart. It is my training, as student, to develop my senses, sensitivity and sensuality so that I can hear the teachers’ lesson. An adept student will hear the teachers voices whose wisdom she is ready to recieve. The fact that some plants’ voices are so clearly heard by all of humanity suggests all humanity is ready and requires the lesson.
Medicine: I am listening.
Now is my time.
It was the night of the Winter Solstice and it was my watch over the hatchery. Usually they erupt like a petite volcano, somewhere in the middle of a distant sea undiscovered by human consciousness. Safely silent and unnoticed, thirty, seventy – maybe more – decide by some ancient wisdom that their soft shell is suddenly too cramped for their consciousness, that the weight of 24 inches of packed dirt is too heavy for their freedom, that they long to open lungs, open eyes, open arms and know independent life. Silently, as one, they use each other to slowly push, wiggle, fight upward through packed sand, their birth canal. All together erupting with newborn blindness, exhaustion and awkwardness in one amoebic heap.
But not she. This miniature sea turtle made the journey alone. I will never know how she knew it was Her Time. Perhaps there is one Plankton Angel for each sea turtle egg whispering “stillness” “grow shell” “absorb placenta” and finally a gentle “go” in each embryonic ear. Perhaps there is some genetic consciousness that can read the oceans tide, the moon’s phase, the weather’s proclivity, the survival economics. Perhaps it’s a roll of the Chaotic dice at the evolutionary craps table by the God of Time drunk on water-turned-wine by the Prophet of Profit in his casino room’s jacuzzi bath the night prior. Somehow, she did it alone.
Grateful for the darkness we both, I lifted her from the hatchery nest and with soundless respect, tip toed just-her to the wild, uninhabited playa and set her newly opened, still crying eyes into the sand facing a barbaric ocean ready to work or drown any weakling effort to indulge it’s waters. Lazy baby; she laid still, gaining strength to move her limbs and then suddenly, the enormous orange moon emerged as her only mentor, warning lovingly: fight-or-die. She flopped. She flailed. She pushed her miniature aquatic body across a forever distance of 4m of sand to be hit and rolled time and time again by wicked waters. Still pressing forward: survival code.
The undertow took pity and finally carried her away into 10f waves of pounding black sea. She’d not eat for days or weeks as she continues her newborn struggle to avoid predator eyes – bite sized appetizer she appears, to avoid commercial fishery drift nets killing everything – endangered species like her included, and beat the odds by persisting at least 14 years before she returns to cumbersome land for only the second time in her life to lay 100 eggs of which likely none, but perhaps one – will survive.
May it be you tonight, Winter Solstice child. Now is your time.
The limousine shuttle drove us from our Beverly Hills parking into the Hollywood Hills, passing finely manicured home after home, to deliver we spit-shined activist guests to the red carpet doorstep. Photographers, like True Emotions, snapped photos of animal activist celebrities including Corey Feldman (Lost Boys) and Jorja Fox (CSI) smiling, kissing, posing and offering step-and-repeat interviews to VegTV and other channels before slipping off our shoes and sliding inside the hosting mansion.
The carpet was long and thick between our toes and the conversation hummed with stories of volunteer work in Uganda and Costa Rica. The staff made rounds offering vegan finger foods with an extra dose of personality and play. The open bar, with organic wine, didn’t hurt the jovial atmosphere at all.
A hush fell over the room when long-time animal rights crusader, Bob Barker (Price Is Right) took the stair case and reitterated with clarity and impact his words to Washington DC earlier that year when introducing the Traveling Exotic Animal Protection Act. He was impressive in his resolve and effect and I thanked television for bringing this man stardom whom singlehandedly assures the survival of more than five vital animal rights organizations through his generous philanthropy and personal appearances.
As vibrant as the evening was, after previews of the film Lion Ark screened, not a dry eye was left in the house. We wept over our dairy-free strawberry cheesecake. We wept over how cruel humans can be. Lion Ark is an upcoming movie, which I am a credited producer on, that exposes the followthrough activists must take after they win a new law, like banning wild animals from circuses in Bolivia. The law is just the begging. The forced forfeit and relocation to sanctuary the now liberated animals is the followthrough.
Animal Defenders International’s “Lion Ark Night” Red Carpet Event was a huge success in consciousness raising, community gathering and fund procurement. Grass roots organizations, like Animal Defenders International, are doing the biggest work on the smallest staff and budgets. The US branch of ADI has only three staff. I get chills when I consider what a massive difference a dedicated minority can make for the people who would like to help, but haven’t yet taken action and for the animals that lack a voice to scream at us – stop using me entertainment, food and experimentation. Thank you, Animal Defenders International for pioneering tangible change for us all.
Watch my red carpet interview with VegTV here. Gorgeous event photography below.
Sometimes you don’t know how far you’ve gotten away from yourself until a long-term, intimate relationship leaves and you’re alone.
I’ve spent a lot of time alone in this development and its not all been merry. It’s been ludacris, destitute, forsaking, angry. I’ve watched the plants grow, scryed the Sun with bare eyes, sweat my way to yogic trance and found sadness in the stillness. In the stillness was tears.
The snake has found me in the dreaming reality. I, honorably, have dreamed the snake. I have watched the snake when I was impatient. She taught me how to be still, strongly maintain a constant state of assessment – how to communicate accurately with only consciousness. The snake made me psychic. I’ve rippled slowly across the floor in genuinety and giggleable obsession. I’ve listened to your breathing, you are beautiful and clean. I hear loudly what you ‘re feeling and thinking.
In the end, it’s not that I lost who I was. I was always and can’t help but will always be that never lost. But like a latent power unearthed, with rapidity and certainty, I find I’ve become balanced and present – I pick up the magickal weapon and am already adept. I give it a graceful swing and a grateful respect. It changes shape in my hands and i am instantly the wielding expert of every object here or there. I’m now patient and more diplomatic. I am impressed.
Because I may or may not have been that person in the past. I may have acted brashly fatalic. I may have torn the paint off the wall and threw the heavy at your head. But without you, my frame of reference is simplified. And I. Like. Whom. I’ve. Become.
In episode 9 of The Eco Tourist, my very home-shot/edited series documenting a 3 week volunteer conservation trip to Thailand where my travel partner and I work with the endangered Asian elephant, we check out what other conservation initiatives, besides endangered species rescue, the Elephant Nature Park takes to protect the environment, culture and species. Told from the perspective of two Hollywood-based high raw vegans working in the film/television industry, please enjoy my self-produced web series, The Eco Tourist, episode 9.
Read about some of the other rescues at the Elephant Nature Park, Thailand here.
Episode 10 of The Eco Tourist, my web series documenting a 3 week volunteer conservation trip to Thailand where my travel partner and I work with the endangered Asian elephant.
Told from the perspective of two Hollywood-based high raw vegans working in the film/television industry, in this tenth episode, you’ll see some very healthy and hilarious behaviors of Asian elephants. If the zoo, circus, sanctuary or trekking camp you are considering attending does not provide the opportunity for their elephants to exhibit these natural instincts, then find another. Find a true sanctuary where the elephants are free to:
1. scratch all day! 2. rumble, trumpet, squawk and communicate with other elephants 3. dust themselves with loose dirt 4. forage for wild plant food 5. roll in mud pits! 6. touch constantly and socialize with other elephants continually 7. raise the youngsters with familial discipline 8. be free from poking, stabbing and beating with the bull hook
These elephants at the Elephant Nature Park in Thailand (a real elephant sanctuary) are free to exhibit all these natural behaviors and are obviously healthy elephants. Just take a look:
Read about the difference between most circus, zoo and trekking elephants vs. HEALTHY elephants in sanctuaries in my award-winning column, Clean and Green Every Day, in EcoHearth online magazine here: Circus Elephants Life and Exposing Cole Bros Circus Elephant Cover Up.
Episode 6 of The Eco Tourist web series is LIVE! I never thought I’d be called to protest – I mean; rally – in Thailand, but as I mentioned in episode 5, to save an endangered species, you have to address the social, cultural, environmental AND political issues as well. We’ll here’s my chance to walk my talk!
This rally at the Governor’s Mansion in Chiang Mai, Thailand was a quite unexpected opportunity that presented itself during my volunteer position at the Elephant Nature Park. With support from international protesters, this video is in multiple languages, including Dutch, Israeli, Mandarine, French, Thai, Finnish and Scottish (which SOUNDS like another language, that’s for sure!). Enjoy episode 6 of The Eco Tourist:
In episode 4 of The Eco Tourist, my travel partner and I arrive at The Elephant Nature Park, where we will volunteer with this endangered species. But on our arrival day, a special treat – we get close to a baby elephant.
She’s the reason I went back. There is a girl in her twenties with eyelashes and spirit for days. Her amber eyes have seen things she has no fear of today. She is the happiest elephant I know precisely because she knows how bad it can be. And this is not it.
This is definitely not it.
The first time I volunteered here I was a student. I was a student of the gentle giants and I was a student of wo/mankind. I learned all the horrible things we can do. I learned all the awe inspiring things we can do. I watched the orphaned families all, reform new with other elephants rescued, rehabilitated and retired. I watched these massive beings take extra care to not step on any darting dogs at their feet. I watched them touch each other in movements than can only be described as caressing. And I knew, when I saw the family with two young children have an afternoon in the mud pit I had just broke back and dug out the day before, that there are great emotions in those great beings and I’m certain the capacity for joy be directly proportional to the size of a being’s heart. The elephant surrogate family unanimously lived a bliss that were it sun shine would have blinded the naked eye. I’ve never seen such magnitude of rapture outside this group of elephants, going as a family for a flop, slide, spray and wrestle in the mud pit.
To me, the elephant represents joy.
Like Medo; the elephant I have taken the time to watch and sit near. She does not flop in mud pits. Her hind body is crippled from the full accumulation of maladies this endangered species experiences in the real culture of Thailand, with logging illegal and tourism the gross national product, the layers of our human interference with this majestic species are many. Medo has seen them all. And when I touch her side and feel her warmth – I feel her breathe and feel a subconscious “thank you” issue forth from my lips regarding her life. She is alive. Thank you for Medo’s life.
She survived and now, too, she sees another layer of what humans are capable of. If we are an advanced species, it is demonstrated not in the research laboratories, the antique pews, or the 3D special effects, but in the acts of humanity I am living now. I am the impressive human that did not harm, ride or injure the Asian elephant when I visited Thailand. Count me energetically as One. One of the advanced in our species.
In fact, I worked my ass of for the Asian elephant instead. I scooped poop the size of bowling balls no kidding. I painted dried mud bricks, now a permaculture volunteer house. I loaded logs for the eles’ all nite fires. I scooped out a mud pit. I planted jackfruit and avocado trees on newly-acquired land that is protected and being turned from cabbage fields back into a wild Thai jungle with abundant fruit-bearing trees, perchance someday it may support the dietary and creative needs of a family of five pachyderms. That’s the intention anyway: privatize jungle land, but not to farm or clear for “development”. What the elephants need is more jungle.
What we all need is more jungle.
We can do this. It’s as easy as planting a tree and putting money into the hands of organizations with so much heart, their capacity for compassion is proportional.
Medo’s best friend forever is Mae Lana. Mae Lana used to be a little defensive and protective, I think, because she is 80% blind. Yes, she used to be a bit frightening at times. I liked to hang out with Medo, but in order to do so, I had to put up with her best girlfriend, Mae Lana.
Since my first volunteer experience, an older man in musht has appeared on the scene and Mae Lana’s attitude has changed completely. She is happier and almost giddy. She still can’t see a damn thing, but it is nice to be allowed proximity to Medo this time. I can observe … and feel … and appreciate the little surrogate family of three they’ve become. Elephants, like humans, have complex relationships and there is nothing more beautiful than seeing gigantic orphans form a family. They really love each other; elephants. Again; like humans. Everywhere I look, I see people wanting to communicate with other humans and live with certain ones and look at pictures of others. People love people. I know this now that I know how elephants love elephants. Elephant relationships are so complex, I learned about my own relationships from them. That’s a big lesson.
Even though some will never venture to see the native Asian elephant walking free, they still benefit from this ancient, wise, and wild vital energy existing on earth. I may not get to touch or feed an elephant every day, but the elephant energy walks this earth and all our lives are better for it. We must do what we can now, when the time is right. Now is when we have a place where our contributions matter . If you want to restore your faith in life and feel powerful and effective, save an elephant. If you want to believe something matters, believe in this.http://elephantnaturefoundation.org http://elephantvoices.org http://www.serengetiusa.com/ http://pawsweb.org http://www.helpelephants.com/