Didn’t You Roast a Pig?

It has now been about five weeks since I announced that I am now an ethical vegan (someone who does not eat anything derived from an animal for ethical reasons) and explained the reasons for that decision. Since then, many friends and family members have asked me a lot of questions. I’m going to address some of them here:

Didn’t You Roast a Pig?

Yes, I did. Multiple times. About ten years ago, I purchased a wooden box that can be used to roast a whole pig of up to 100 lbs. I have used it on several occasions for large parties. The last time that I used it was about six years ago.

This last pig roast was after I had begun to question the morality of meat eating. While many people find the concept of roasting a whole pig repulsive, my view was different. Personally, I did not see the difference between roasting a whole pig and buying BBQ takeout. Others see it as far worse. I think that is because they are uncomfortable to think about the source of their meat. I thought that it was important for meat-eaters to acknowledge that meat comes from animals, not from plastic-wrapped packages at the grocery.

I think that was an important step for me. By confronting that reality, I was better able to consider the suffering that was involved in my food choices. Incidentally, that last pig roast was a fund raiser hosted by Hartford Area Humanists. I also scheduled another event for that group just a few weeks later. The topic was “Should Humanists Be Vegetarian?”.

Where Do You Get Your Protein?

Lots of places. Mostly Stop & Shop.

It is actually quite easy to get all of the protein that you need from plants. I am careful to include whole grains, nuts, legumes, and seeds into my diet each day. The main thing that vegans must worry about is Vitaimin B-12, and I take a supplement for that everyday.

Didn’t You Do This Once Before?

I think that the hidden implicit meaning behind this question is that some are understandablly skeptical of whether this is a permanent change and not just a passing fad.

Yes, I did adopt a vegan diet once before – almost eight years ago. That lasted less than a month. However, even in that failure, I believed in the rightness of that lifestyle. In many ways, I have been transitioning to my current diet since that time by reducing meat and other animal products. Eventually becoming vegan remained a goal.

This time around, I learned from my previous attempt. Last time, I went “cold turkey”. This time, I took about two months to make the transition. I learned to prepare new dishes to find new foods and dishes to replace those that were being reduced and eliminated. I gave my body (and the bacteria in my gut) time to adjust to the change. (See discussion below regarding my “system”)

I’ve also put more thought into the reasons for being vegan. Last time around, I was more motivated by health considerations, and ethics were a secondary consideration. This time, the choice was entirely motivated by ethics and concern for the environment. Every day, I think every day about the reasons for this choice, and that fortifies me to remain vegan. Each week has been easier.

I frequently find myself in situations where there are few or no good food options. When that happens, I remind myself that a little hunger or inconvenience is inconsequential compared to the suffering that is reduced by my choices. And, with more experience, I am getting better at handling those situations all the time.

Do You Still Eat Gluten?

I get asked this a lot at restaurants. Yes, I eat gluten. Lots of it. My system handles it just fine. Seitan is a great high-protein meat substitute, and is made almost entirely from gluten..

Speaking of Your System . . . . ?

Yes, I am eating much more fiber. Lots of beans, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. I’ve noticed that we’ve been going through toilet paper more quickly, and I have had some bloating. But, as my system has adjusted to the new diet, that is now greatly reduced and things are very nearly back to normal.

Well, I am going to keep eating meat, eggs, and dairy.

No, this is not a question. It is an assertion that I hear quite frequently. Sometimes it is offered almost as an apology. Other times, it is expressed as a defiant declaration.

This is a touchy subject for ethical vegans and the people in their lives who do not follow their example. Ethical vegans believe that it is immoral to eat meat or animal products. GIven our stance, those who continue to eat meat, etc., accurately conclude that we believe that their choices are immoral. This is the source of the tension between vegans and carnists. They perceive us to be moralizng – and I can’t disagree with them. Our beliefs implicitly condemn their choices.

Except, for me, it is not that simple. I refuse to judge other people on account of their food choices. We live in a culture that has bombarded us with messages that eating meat is natural, normal, and necessary. And, as I have learned, breaking that habit is not easy. It took me many years to do it – long after I concluded that my prior way of eating was wrong. So, I understand the choices that others make, and I do not think that they are bad people for continuing to eat meat and other animal products.

So, I continue to buy and prepare meat and animal products for family and friends who come to our home. I also prepare vegan dishes that they can try and may enjoy. I do not bring up the reasons for my veganism unless directly asked to do so, and I have made a firm rule: I never discuss the reasons for my diet at the table.

But, I do think that it is important for vegans to make others aware of their choices and the reasons that they have made them. That’s the reason for writing this blog article. My exposure to those who had thought longer and more deeply about the ethics of their diet were very influential to my decision. Even before I became vegan, those influences caused me to greatly reduce my consumption of meat and animal products for about a decade. Less is better. If everyone simply reduced their consumption, there would be less suffering and less harm to the environment. If I encourage a few people to be more mindful of their food choices and to eat less meat and animal products, that is worth the effort.

But, nobody has to apologize or justify their food choices to me. Who am I to judge, anyway? I once roasted a whole pig!



Humanists Thinking of Carl Sagan as New “Cosmos” Series About To Debut

“Humanists are especially eager. They claim Sagan as their own, and see in the “Cosmos” series — a multipart journey to the outer reaches of our universe — and in his dozen books a vibrant strain of their own philosophy. That philosophy favors reason over religion and holds human beings as both good and responsible for the Earth’s plight.”

Read more

Finding Common Ground in Our Common Humanity

Regardless of whether one believes that our desire to be good comes from God or from our evolutionary past, Humanists and theists can work together to build a more just society.  They can work together to help alleviate poverty, hunger, and suffering.  They can work together to protect and sustain our planet.  And, together, they can find happiness and fulfillment in the effort. –

See more at: http://hartfordfavs.com/2014/03/02/finding-common-ground-common-humanity/#sthash.9YV1oQyV.dpuf

What do Humanists Offer the Bereaved?

A group of Hartford Area Humanists recently met in a member’s home on a snowy morning for a group conversation about  death and bereavement.  This gathering was part of Hartford Area Humanists’ ongoing discussion on “Rational Spirituality.” While many Humanists eschew any mention  of spirituality, dismissing it as supernatural “woo-woo” unworthy of serious discussion, others embrace spirituality as a natural human phenomenon that is not dependent upon anything supernatural.  These “rational spiritualists” seek to live a happier and more fulfilling life by exploring the deeper aspects of being human.

Sandy Hook Elementary School. Image courtesy of HartfordFAVs

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Sandy Hook Elementary School. Image courtesy of HartfordFAVs

It was no coincidence that we discussed death and bereavement on the first anniversary of the Sandy Hook shootings.  Tragedies such as Sandy Hook raise difficult questions for Humanists.  In the weeks after Sandy Hook, New York Times columnist Samuel Freedman pointedly asked  “where were the humanists?”, noting that, while Humanist and other secular groups raised money and held anti-gun rallies, there was no visible Humanist presence offering solace to the victims’ families. Atlanta Page, a Christian blogger writing in Examiner.com, declared that Humanists have nothing to offer the bereaved in the wake of such tragedies, arguing that only faith in a loving God and belief in an afterlife can sooth those facing the otherwise unbearable grief of lives taken too soon.  Ms. Page argues that, while the Humanist stance that people should find meaning and purpose during our lives may be work well when celebrating the end of a long and rich life, that approach is inadequate in responding to the tragic and violent death of children.

Implicit in the accusation that Humanism has nothing to offer the bereaved is the assumption that the Humanist worldview is not an effective way of dealing with tragedy.

– See more at: http://hartfordfavs.com/2013/12/17/humanists-offer-bereaved/#sthash.Udn7WKKN.dpuf


How Humanists Are Good Without God

Yesterday, I was honored to be the guest at Unitarian Universalist Society: East in Manchester, CT to present the sermon.  The topic was “How Humanists Are Good Without God”.  About 180 people were present, including a nice contingent from Hartford Area Humanists.  It was a wonderful experience for me, and the reaction from the Congregation was quite positive.  Quite a few mentioned that they had not previously understood what Humanism was about.

Below is the text of the written version of the sermon.  This is quite a distance from what I actually said.  I hope to get a recording of the actual sermon soon.

UU East Address FINAL

Buy Local/Fair Trade Speaker – Dan Finn

Local Fair Trade

The Buy Local and Fair Trade movements help local businesses, improve local economies, and promote economic justice and sustainability.  Anyone interested in learning more is invited to to the Humanist Association of CT’s monthly dinner series event tomorrow, Feb. 26. Our guest speaker will be Dan Finn, Director of Pioneer Valley Local First.   We will be at the Wood-N-Tap in Rocky Hill.  All are welcome, and attendees are encouraged (but not required) to respond via Meetup.

Why Do We Celebrate Darwin Day?


Charles Darwin’s birthday is today – February 12.  It is a big deal among the science and humanist communities.  Local groups in Fairfield County hold an annual banquet  to honor the event (rescheduled to Feb 16 due to the storm – you can still register).

The International Darwin Day Foundation’s website has a good explanation for why we celebrate Darwin’s Birthday on or around February 12:

Charles Darwin as a Symbol for the Celebration of Science and Humanity

Celebrations are an important part of every culture. They provide a tradition and a common bond to be shared among those who make up their culture, permitting them to experience a meaningful connection to one another and to the principles to which they subscribe. Unfortunately, most celebrations are based on ancient traditions that are relevant to only a specific country or culture, and they have often been, and continue to be, the source of serious conflicts.

At this juncture in history, the world has become so small and interdependent that we need a Global Celebration to promote a common bond among all people. The Darwin Day Celebration was founded on the premise that science, like music, is an international language that speaks to all people in very similar ways. While music is both intellectual and entertaining, science is our most reliable knowledge system, and it has been and continues to be acquired through human curiosity and ingenuity. Moreover, evolution via genetic variation and natural selection, introduced by Darwin, has become the central organizing principle in biology. In addition, evolution also plays a central role in astronomy and cosmology, where it refers to the way that stars, galaxies and the entire universe ‘change over time.’ To study biology while neglecting evolution would be like studying physics without Newton’s laws that govern the universe or chemistry without the periodic table. Clearly, Darwin himself has become an internationally acclaimed figure, whose influence on progressive modern thought continues to be both profound and pervasive (Ernst Mayr, Darwin’s Influence on Modern Thought, Scientific American, July 2000).

Current research in the field of genetics, including that on the human genome, has conclusively shown that all humans are essentially identical and that we are genetically related to all other living things on this planet. Thus an enlightened view of genetics is one of unity and equality among all humans and also one that fosters a deeper sense of respect and appreciation for all life. Today the validity of Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection rests in our understanding of the molecular mechanisms of genetics. Therefore, we conclude that Charles Darwin is a worthy symbol on which to focus, in order to build a Global Celebration of Science and Humanity that is intended to promote a common bond among all people of the earth.

Phil Plait, the “Bad Astronomer” on Slate, suggests celebrating Darwin Day by making a contribution to the National Center for Science Education.  Great idea!

Happy Darwin Day!