Living in the Peaceable Kingdom, or “It’s hard to be vegan when you don’t like vegetables.”

PeaceableKingdom John August Swanson

In the mists of my childhood, I remember a wonderfully fun day of fishing with my dad at a lake somewhere in Kentucky. It was reedy and teeming with life and tall grass and all the fun creatures that live in such places.  I had never been fishing before, though I had some idea that the fish we ate at home had lived in watery homes, free to swim, and that one could take a cool looking pole and bait a hook and entice them to bite.

At the time, Kentucky waters were not the safest (valley of the barrels was a phrase I heard often), so fishing meant catch and release, no eating.

The day was idyllic in all ways except one. The little rainbow fish I caught, laid on the rock under the water after I threw it back in, its white and colorful fins no longer moving.

It died. And I cried. A beautiful irridescent creature no longer lived. Something was lost and I didn’t understand.

Yet I did.

The Hebrew word for the soul’s breath is nephesh. The fish’s nephesh was gone.

Another Hebrew phrase comes to mind, tikkum olam, to mend the world. The world unravels in places like a fraying garment and we are called to reweave the threads.

The world unraveled a bit for me as I hoped without hope that the fish would leave the rock and swim away, shaking off its frightful moment in the world of human air.

I felt in that moment, for the first time, my impact on the world could be destructive and I wanted to reweave what I had unraveled and breath life back into the little fish.

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Years passed and the fish memory faded. My interest in creation took on a more detached quality. I was in biology club throughout school, dissecting and classifying and facing the loss of nephesh with equanimity.

One science fair I had access to the full services of a medical laboratory and set out to prove to my fellow students the dangers of eating too many Pringles potato chips. This involved 12 lab mice and lots of chips.

I’m certain I’m still whispered about in the mouse kingdom as She-who-must-not-be-named.

The results were sobering, but there were no tears this time.

Yet, still, a dissonance lived quietly in the corner of my heart that held that earlier memory. As I recently volunteered for two years with a Boston animal shelter, fostering and nurturing abandoned cats, the dissonance became louder. As I daily watch the feathered and furry creatures that visit my balcony or are on the other side of my camera lens, the dissonance is deafening. As I get older, it seems more and more important to pay attention.

Feline Lectio

But how? Become a vegetarian? There have been a few years here and there when I’ve chosen that practice, but now reading more about factory farming and how dairy production is tied in with meat production, I’m not as comfortable with that choice. The other option, vegan, seems impossible to maintain.

And I must admit, I don’t much like vegetables.

At one point, I learned that the Eastern Orthodox Christians practice a vegan diet for Lent. That seemed radical yet possible: a 40-day peaceable kingdom written into the church year. So I decided to try it. Three days in, I crawled to my friend Kimberlee, weak and wan, and admitted defeat.  I had simply stopped eating, unsure what to replace animal products with.

This past Tuesday, I mentioned my Lenten vegan fantasy to her again and she, with inestimable wisdom, suggested I only do it on Wednesdays and Fridays. I’m sure she does not want a repeat of last time.

My response: “You know I simply won’t eat on those days.”

“Fine, then you’ll fast.”

But I want to do more than go without food, I want to find joy (and even yummyness) in other options that allow little lives to not grace my dinner plate. This takes intentional effort.

So today I practiced a meal. The nice thing about practicing something, like scales on a piano, is that no one, including me, expects perfection.

“Are you vegan?”

“No, I’m just living in the peaceable kingdom for lunch today.”

I created a yummy dish of warmed chard (so much better than spinach) with sesame oil, garlic, ginger, scallions, and lemon juice.  With it, I ate gnocchi filled with yams, covered in marinara and vegan mozzarella.

And I, someone who was often told “You drink so much milk, we need to buy a cow,” finished off the meal with a glass of vanilla hemp milk (actually quite good).

It’s only one meal, but it’s a beginning, in honor of that little fish, 3o years ago.

(And if you have favorite vegan recipes, please share!)

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  • Jeanne Marie Miles

    Morning Kale
    (I eat some kind of variation of this almost every morning for breakfast. I generally have it with eggs, but for you vegan mornings, it could be with a 10-grain cereal or something else. Of course, you can always have this at other times of day, too! :-) Blessings on your Peacable Kingdom meals!)

    1 bunch of green kale (or other variety)
    1/4-1/2 medium yellow onion, chopped
    1 carrot, peeled and chopped
    1 garlic clove, crushed
    olive oil for sauteing

    Pull the leaves from the stems of the kale. Chop the stems into 1/4-1/2 inch chunks. Chop onions into a similar size. Peel and chop carrot into a similar size. Heat pan over medium low, add olive oil when pan is hot, then add kale stems, carrots and onions, and stir to coat. Saute for ~5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Crush or chop the garlic, and add to pan, stirring, until fragrant. Roughly chop the kale leaves, and add them to the pan, stir to coat with oil, then cover and steam for 5-7 minutes, or until kale is bright. Keeps and re-heats well, serves with nearly anything! :-) Enjoy!

    PS – I’m enjoying following your blog, Susan! Thank you for sharing!
    Hugs,
    JM

  • susan

    Thank you Jeanne!! This looks yummy :-)

  • Elisa

    Susan, I should send you a copy of the cookbook I got Craig, from our local Russian Orthodox church. A friend from high school is the daughter of their priest, and I got a copy for Craig two Lents ago. It’s full of recipes from their community, for their fast. My friend and her husband sell it through their website, gallerybyzantium.com. They make jewelry, and their jewelry is beautiful, and they are right in Ipswich. But the cookbook is great– it’s exactly what you’re talking about.

  • thank you for that moving herstory. i am not a good cook and in the 40 years i’ve been vegan, i’ve changed diets many times, including macrobiotic and currently 99% raw.

    we live in a culture that is predominantly “carnist.” “carnism,” [according to wikipedia] is the belief system, or ideology, in which it’s considered ethical to consume (certain) animals. Carnism is essentially the opposite of vegetarianism or veganism.

    Carnism was coined by social psychologist Dr. Melanie Joy in 2001.[ Dr. Joy claims that because carnism is a dominant, violent ideology it has remained unnamed and invisible so that meat eating has seemed a given rather than a choice; according to Joy, when eating meat isn’t a necessity for survival, it’s a choice, and choices always stem from beliefs. Joy maintains that because of the violence inherent in carnism (modern meat production requires intensive and extensive violence toward animals), the system uses a set of social and psychological defense mechanisms to distort people’s perceptions and block their awareness and empathy when they eat meat, enabling humane people to participate in inhumane practices without realizing what they’re doing. [wikipedia]

    i could give you dozens of websites for recipies, but you have the internet and typing in “vegan recipes” or the like will give you the same. it’s a change in conscciousness that you seem to be undertaking that is the first step. i will send you an email separately, with links that may also assist you in your journey to a true peaceable kingdom. [see the video “peaceable kingdom” http://www.peaceablekingdomfilm.org/pk_toh_english.htm%5D

    good luck ~ you can do it!
    warm wishes,
    nancy

  • Elisa

    PS– have you ever heard/sung Randall Thompson’s, “The Peaceable Kingdom”? It is one of my favorite choral works. Beautiful.

  • susan

    Oh yes! In fact, that was the first time I heard the phrase “The Peaceable Kingdom”–23 years ago, my senior year in high school, we sang Have Ye Not Known? and Ye Shall Have a Song for the choir tour. Such a beautiful piece :-)

  • susan

    Nancy, thank you so much for your encouragement and the links you emailed me! :-)

  • Tracy

    I stumbled across your site looking for pictures of the “Peaceable Kingdom”. Love the music! Your blog post is very touching. There’s a wonderful documentary you would enjoyed called “Peaceable KingdomL” http://www.peaceablekingdomfilm.org/. I think you’ll enjoy it. By the way, the vegetables were grow on you the more you eat them and as you learn of new ways to cook them!