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The Straight Edge of Vegans 

Like a Taoist or Buddhist or a pony-tailed Hare Krishna, vegans believe in the oneness of all life. I am you. You are me. The cow, he is me, too. And the chicken and the antelope and the fishy fish -- all part of the same macro-web we are all members of, as well. Dig?

A common misconception, vegans are not just herbivores who shun dairy as well as meat. Instead, veganism is an Ism with a capital I: a belief system around which diet and daily life choices are constructed and followed out in great detail.

Joanne Stepaniak's recent guide on the movement, The Vegan Sourcebook (Lowell House, 1998), claims that an epiphany awaits many who choose this highly-regulated vegan lifestyle. She writes, "The revelation that it is unethical, immoral, inhumane, sinful or karmically wrong to participate in any way in the killing, suffering or unjust control of animals can change lives forever."

Stepaniak's righteous tone illustrates the hardcore side of veganism, the vegan Nazis, the ones who look down on leather belt-wearers, wishbone snappers and gridiron tossers of the pigskin. This feisty wing found its origin in America in the 1940s with the formation of the official Vegan Society, a group that delivered a stunningly noble and upright manifesto.

In part, it reads: "The aims of the Vegan Society are: to advocate that man's food should be derived from fruits, nuts, vegetables, grains and other wholesome non-animal products and that it should exclude flesh, fish, fowl, eggs, honey and animals' milk, butter and cheese.

... to abolish man's dependence on animals, with its inevitable cruelty and slaughter, and to create instead a more reasonable and humane order of society. ..."

The manifesto claims that if we wore no leather shoes or fur coats and used no shampoos first tested on animals, we would all live much happier lives. It is very comprehensive in its aims and subsequently very limiting in its choices, given a world historically dominated by carnivorous market consumers.

As vegans often find, only a small percentage of restaurants in any city specifically cater to their lifestyle, which necessarily leaves most followers to explore their aptitude in the kitchen using a modest but growing pile of cookbooks. One recent volume worthy of exploration is the beautifully illustrated Nonna's Italian Kitchen: Delicious Homestyle Vegan Cuisine by Bryanna Clark Grogan (Book Publishing Co., 1998).

Be it known: Those that come to veganism for dietary reasons alone (like, to cut down on mucus cloggidge during cold season) are not likely to stay the course for good. As an example, one who is disgusted to the point of nausea to hear the gruesome conditions to which animals are subjected on factory farms across the country would be a good candidate for right-path veganism.

For those who've chosen the vegan lifestyle but find its constraints too limiting or extremist, there is a way out, brothers and sisters, without giving into the sickening corporate machine. You can embrace the flavor of meat and still me mindful of its source. Be particular where you shop, and inquire into the origin of your meats, dairy products and honey. Let go of Wal-Mart-like, all-in-one superstores as, in reality, they represent the anti-oneness, the meat markets most likely to fill you body with chemicals, hormones and gnarly-ass vibes with every ingestion of their product.

Instead, buy meat from a specialist butcher who knows exactly where the beef comes from and what it's been fed. There are clean farming systems out there -- rare but still present. Not every single cow in America gets jacked in the keister with steroids to make her squirt more milk or seem more meaty on the table.

Similarly, not every chicken is malbred or gets its beak filed off and stuffed into a small cage with four other chickens, stacked on top of dozens of cages housing three similar chickens. Buy free-range birds and eggs and make sure to read labels. There are scams galore that prey on America's newfound love affair with buzzwords like "fresh," "organic" and "all-natural."

Though its insistence on fair animal treatment should be massively applied to current corporate farming practices, veganism is not the only way on the multi-fold path to human piety.

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