Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Say 4 Hail Mary’s and go vegan as soon as possible


In my community, I seem to be the resident vegan priest.

Right on the spot, some friends will have one look at me, flush with guilt, and feel the need to confess. Forgive me Vegan Father John for I have vegan sinned: I ate barbecue chicken yesterday and had two non-vegan doughnuts since I last saw you.
I recently had a conversation in the yoga studio that started rather awkwardly.
My friend said, “I’m so sorry that I posted that photo of the hooked Amberjack fish to my social media. I want you to know that I think about you and your wife. I don’t eat a lot of meat…my husband made me post the photo. He was so excited to catch the fish, and I know that I said that it’s a rare, large Amberjack fish and that people should wonder why large Amberjack fish are now rare…”
Her sincerity was genuine and heart-felt.
I smiled, nodded, gave a couple of “yeses,” “ohs, and “I sees.”
It felt like there was just too much information in my friend’s confession before yoga to chronicle the importance of how to stop killing the planet, so I instead chose to express empathy and wished her a nice yoga class.
The fact is, the ocean is, as Herman Melville suggested in Moby Dick, our unconscious. Most of us only see the surface of the ocean, never the life underneath—or in the case of what’s happening now, the accelerating absence of life below.
To our sight, the surface of the ocean would look the same, whether it had abundant life beneath it or none at all.
This is a problem.
According to scientists, by 2048 most large marine ecosystems will have collapsed from over-fishing. According to a 2006 study led by Dr. Boris Worm and a group of international ecologists and economists, three-quarters of the world’s oceans are already exploited or depleted and the oceans may be fishless in the near future.
The oceans seem to be racing toward extinction.
We swim with our heads above water, unconscious to the changes below.
No more grouper to eat? No problem. We’ll eat tuna. Now where’d that one go?
No more shrimp in northern Baja? We’ll trawl the southern Baja until that collapses.
There used to be more swordfish, what happened? By the way, anyone see where all the shark went?
This tragic demise of sea-life will cascade down the fishing line. We seem to be in a race to see who can consume the last tuna, the last Amberjack, and the last shrimp before they are all gone.
We can’t seem to raise our vision beyond the end of our own forks.
My friend in yoga class seemed to be aware that there are no longer many large Amberjack fish left. But why is this?
Because they have been fished out.
What remains are the younger, smaller fish with a more tenuous hold on survival. My friend’s photo on social media shows a smiling fisherman, elbows lifted and bent, arching back from the weight, holding a four-foot, 100-pound, pinkish-brown Amberjack fish by a hook in his mouth with blood dripping down his side.
Toward the end of yoga class as we lay resting in Savasana, the teacher read a short poem by the Indian saint Saraha:

Though the house-lamps have been lit,
The blind live on in the dark.
Though spontaneity is all-encompassing and close,
To the deluded it remains
Always far away.

A massive 40 percent of the world’s ocean catch is by-catch. Collateral damage. Caught, unwanted, killed, and discarded at sea. These animals include whales, dolphins, seals, sea turtles, sharks, and an infinite variety of other unwanted sea life. Unfortunately, in the industrialized, modern world, there seems to be no such thing as sustainable seafood.

Seafood is simply a socially acceptable form of pillaging the ocean. What if we plundered all of the birds on land starting with bald eagles until they disappeared? Then we moved on to hawks, seagulls, sparrows, and orioles? Who would be next and who would be safe? The butterfly and the hummingbird? Certainly, we couldn’t justify the extinction of entire species of birds simply because they taste good, could we?
Imagine a world without birds. Now imagine a world without fish. Fish are more valuable to us alive in the ocean than they are as a source of food.
A functioning ocean filled with life provides the oxygen we breathe, absorbing more carbon dioxide than all forests on land. Every breath we take has passed through the ocean first.
An ocean full of life fills us in ways we aren’t able to easily quantify. Yet I imagine if we didn’t have life in the ocean, we would quickly understand that loss. Who would we be as a species on a planet where the life around us has vanished?
I am no moral authority. I am not perfect. I am an old surfer doing the best that I can.
All I have going for me is that I care. Besides that, I am compulsively restless, insecure, often wrong, impulsive, selfish, irritable, and sometimes while surfing, I botch a perfect wave, falling on the drop like a kook.
I am flawed.
I love the idea that veganism is not a path of perfection; it’s a path of kindness. This concept resonates for me. I care about animals, the environment, and about my relationships with other people.
If I were your vegan-priest, my first instruction would be to live one day at a time. If everyone on the planet went vegan for just one day out of the year, we would save 2,739,726 ocean animals per day.
One day matters. Our food choices each and every day matter.
If it helps, go ahead, I’m here—confess your vegan sins to me. But let’s not bury ourselves in thinking in terms of right and wrong. The oceans are too important for that. Can’t we do better than fixating our Pavlovian vision on guilt? Guilt is the ego’s harangue.
You have a conscience, you’re a good person—now don’t worry about changing anything, you feel bad enough as it is.
Positive daily action is the antidote for our dissonant souls and a planet now pushed to the brink. The mindset of living one day at a time can release the paralysis of inaction, navigating toward a saner, more sustainable world. When confronted with a large problem, taking it day-by-day gives us the freedom to not feel overwhelmed and discouraged.
My hope is that we can abandon our superficial selves, dive into an ocean of life, and fall in love again before it’s too late.
Or if you prefer, say four Hail Mary’s, do five Chaturangas, and go vegan as soon as possible.

-John Merryfield


Friday, 9 January 2015

Foie Gras

On January 7, a federal district court judge invalidated California's ban on the sale of foie gras, a ban that thousands of dedicated individuals, including myself, worked to get passed in 2004.  The judge improperly ruled that an unrelated federal law, the Poultry Products Inspection Act (PPIA) preempts the California foie gras ban.  

I, and many others, believe that the judge decided this case incorrectly.  The PPIA regulates only poultry slaughter, labeling, and ingredients, and not cruel farming practices.  The judge ruled that force feeding of geese and ducks constitutes an "ingredient", which of course is absurd.  Force feeding is clearly not an ingredient.  It is a cruel farming practice that is not supported by a majority of Californians, and is precisely the reason the initiative passed in 2004 to protect geese and ducks.

Many people can argue that eating animals of any kind is cruel and unnecessary because animals are held, transported and slaughtered in brutal conditions, but this modest protection of geese and ducks from force feeding only regulates the fact that they can not be tortured, before they are killed.

The recent federal district court ruling means that foie gras, a product of egregious cruelty to farm animals, which would be a felony if inflicted on dogs and cats, will now be sold in California restaurants.  In spite of this, I am still hopeful in our human compassion for animals and I encourage you to express your own compassion.  Please urge restaurants with foie gras on their menus to stop selling this diseased product and to sell one of the many delicious vegan pates instead.    

John Merryfield 

Friday, 1 August 2014

Big Blue

   Its a jouney, not a destination.  That's what I keep reminding myself, every time I look at Lake Tahoe, or as some of my friends refer to Lake Tahoe as, Big Blue... really Big Blue!  As I write this, I'm looking out at the lake and I'm reflecting about my up coming circumnavigation of Big Blue and I'm thinking, "That's a huge lake"!  This is the 6th year I will Stand Up Paddle the 72 miles around the lake in one day, paddling all day and all night, and every year, my mind tells me that I can't do it; that I should take a short cut, take a nap, hide in the bushes, sleep at a friend's house, drink a cup of tea, anything other than to paddle the entire circumference of Big Blue in one day.  As I've said, this will be the 6th year to attempt the circumnavigation in one day and the previous years' successful experiences help calm the negative mental chatter.

   Every year its same the deal.  Look at the lake, feel overwhelmed.  But a funny thing happens when I actually put the board in the water and stand on it.  I feel the motion with the paddle and I relax and enjoy the moment.  I see the beauty of my surroundings and I realize that its an adventure!  Will I make it around the lake?.... Who knows and who cares!  I put the blade of the paddle into the water, pulling on the paddle, stroke after stroke, as I scrutinize my paddle technique.  I notice the texture of the water.  I see the shadow of my board against the bottom of the lake.  I see the moon, as a cloud moves past. I hear the lake birds and water lapping the shoreline, and I am catapulted instantly into the moment, where I have energy and I feel hopeful.  Inevitably, I will again start thinking about the finish, and gently I remind myself to stay in the moment, as I chuckle at my minds' coy ability to distract, again noticing the details of my surroundings, bringing myself back to the moment, and so it goes, 72 miles around Lake Tahoe.


The process I go through paddling around the lake is hardly different than other people's process that I speak to, as they may consider the transition to a compassionate, healthier, plant based diet, moving away from meat, dairy and eggs.  I have yet to meet one person who says that they support animal cruelty, indifferent to the intense confinement that animals experience on factory farms and the brutal conditions in slaughterhouses.  And when I explain how going vegan is a viable option, and choosing to eat plants instead of animals is a simple and effective alternative to the inherent cruelties of the meat industry, blah blah blah, all they can see in their mind's eye (with glazed over eyes) is Big Blue.  A large anonymous lake where they will toil, paddling in perpetuity, while eating grass clippings.  While only half of that image is accurate (if you're like me and you drink wheat grass juice), a life caring about others, the environment, and our health, is hardly a life of deprivation.  En el contrario!  But you will have a hard time telling that to a certain SUP paddler while he stands on the shore, looking at the enormity of the Lake Tahoe.  

   In other words, its a journey not a destination.  Go ahead, jump in the water!  Remove just one unhealthy food from your diet and replace it with a healthier plant based alternative.  Try it.  Experiment.  Have a Meatless Monday once a week.  Living vegan is a path of kindness, not a path of perfection.  You don't have to drink my green smoothies or wheat grass juice, or paddle around Lake Tahoe in one day, but to use the words of my college Psychology professor speaking about the nature of apathy, "Do something, anything".

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Another lap around the lake!

On August 10th, on the evening of the full moon and for the 6th consecutive year, I will embark on a solo, non-stop stand up paddle (SUP) around the entirety of Lake Tahoe in one day.  I will paddle all day and all night powered by a plant based diet and my committment to speak out for factory farmed animals with the Vegan 1 Day Project.

The Vegan 1 Day Project is a grass roots effort to encourage the public to adopt a vegan diet for at least one day out of the year, for health, the environment and the animals.  

Many people mistakenly think that committing to a vegan diet is restrictive and difficult, when in reality, a whole food plant based diet is healthy, compassionate and easy.  Striving to accomplish something very difficult by paddling alone, non-stop around Lake Tahoe in less than 24 hours, is an act of support for those wanting to make a positive change, even if just for one day.

I've been a lifelong surfer and an elite SUP paddle racer, competing in international competitions, but the one day paddle around Lake Tahoe is not a race.  It's a fun way of showing people that we can be strong AND compassionate while eating plants instead of animals.  I've adhered to a plant based diet for over 30 years and I've heard practically every false notion about how vegans are weak and somehow nutrient deficient.  

In fact, last year at an SUP race competition, while standing in the racers queue for the after race lunch, I asked the race organizer if there were any vegan options available.  The race organizer kindly announced that vegan, veggie wraps were available.  Some of the racers behind me overheard the exchange, and quipped, "you can't paddle fast on a veggie wrap"!  With an agreeable smile, I turned to ask what their time was in the race.  And as it turns out, they finished 3 minutes behind me, so I playfully suggested the veggie wrap to them for lunch.

Public interest in vegan foods has gained enormous momentum in recent years, but there still remains misinformation and perceived obstacles.  Paddling alone all day and night, 72 miles around Tahoe for the Vegan 1 Day Project is difficult, but pales in comparison to what animals experience on factory farms and in slaughterhouses; like chickens in battery cages or pigs in metal crates, which are crammed in so tight they can't turn around for most of their lives. 

 Humans can get all of the protein and nutrition needed in a whole food, plant based diet, and going vegan for even just one day has a positive effect on our consciousness, setting a powerful intention for better health and a more compassionate world.

It has been enormously rewarding to see that in the last several years, the Lake Tahoe paddle has grown in popularity and has prompted other groups of plant powered athletes to be a part of the Vegan 1 Day Project with their own endurance events, including long distance running and cycling to inspire others with their physical strength and determination.

To use the words of Martin Luther King Jr., "The arc of the moral universe is long, but bends towards justice".   And for me, the arc bends 72 miles around the circumference of Lake Tahoe, on a stand up paddle board.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Foods for Health and Compassion

Oats are an excellent breakfast choice because of their high amount of complex carbs which provide sustained energy.  Oats are between 10% - 15% protein and provide a good source of fiber as well as a mixture of B Vitamins. It’s a good idea for active vegans to supplement with a B complex vitamin because they support a healthy nervous system, support the adrenal glands and assist in managing stress and weight loss.  B Vitamins are also known for their mood-boosting properties.
Beans are a staple in the vegan diet and a perfect combination of protein and starch.  They are low in calories, low in fat, a good complex carb and high in fiber. They are also an inexpensive protein source, at an average $3 per pound compared to eggs at $6 per pound and meat at $12 per pound.  Who said being vegan was more expensive?
Tofu is an excellent source of vegan protein but I try to always eat the organic kinds because the soybean (the source of tofu) is considered to be very genetically modified.  Consuming GMOs (genetically modified organisms) can create health complications.  Tofu is also best consumed in moderation for vegan body builders especially because it contains a lot of estrogen which can make “hard” muscle appear softer.  For this, I consume a lot of organic tempeh instead.  Tempeh is also made from soybeans but fermented therefore provides considerably higher quality nutrition.
Squash is an amazing source of vegan superpower! It's high in complex carbs and fiber, and the winter varieties are high in Vitamin A, Vitamin C and potassium (an essential mineral especially important for those with a high activity level.)
Yams are also high in vitamin C, dietary fiber, Vitamin B6 and potassium, while being low in saturated fat and sodium.  Yams are crucial to a low carb diet because they provide a nice, slow-burning, sustained form of energy, while providing beneficial nutrient dense carbohydrates.
Plant-based protein powder is an excellent way to increase your intake of muscle-supporting protein.  Protein isolates tend to be heavily processed, so if you find an increase in farting and bloating, processing could be the issue. Some of the more preferred varieties are hemp (also very high in fiber), brown rice and yellow pea protein, a fave among one of our heroes, Brendan Brazier!
Quinoa is not only a fantastic complex carb source but it’s very high in protein too.  Quinoa is considered a whole plant protein and includes lysine, an essential amino acid which helps convert fat into energy.
Brown rice is far superior to white rice in terms of nutrition.  Another great complex carb, it has high levels of manganese, selenium and magnesium (a mineral which acts as a co-factor for more than 300 enzymes) as well as high fiber content. It's a quick staple that can be kept in the fridge for easy preparation, and provides sustainable energy for workouts.
Spinach is an excellent source of Vitamin C, fiber, iron and protein.  It’s low in calories so if you’re going to pig out on any meal, make a giant salad as big as you want with plenty of spinach.  It’s also such a versatile vegetable.  It tastes great in salads, smoothies, steamed, sautéed, in wraps or sandwiches—the possibilities are endless!
In the holistic health realm, one of ACV's primary uses is as a digestive aid. It can help to boost digestive juices in the stomach, and claims have been made that it increases fat burning.  Apple cider vinegar helps your stomach in the breaking down and absorption of essential protein and nutrients.  It also helps to alkalize the body.
According to NutritionData.com, balsamic vinegar is a source of calcium, iron, manganese and potassium, which improve the body's functioning and weight loss abilities.  As with all foods, make sure you check ingredients, as some balsamics contain corn syrup and nasty flavourings which can negate any benefits. 
Grapefruits are used in many diets to reduce the appetite and to help digestion and utilization of foods.  They are low in calories, and are considered an excellent weight loss food. They are high in antioxidants, especially Vitamin C, which will help to boost your immunity during times of heavy training; times that are known to tax the system.
Lemons and limes are another great, natural digestive aid.  Like all citrus fruits, they’re also jam-packed full of antioxidants, Vitamin C and limonene, which is thought to inhibit breast cancer.  Lemon or lime juice adds a fresh, sharp flavour to anything—a definite staple ingredient in competition diets.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Ag-gag Laws Hide Animal Cruelty

This past April, the California Bill AB-343, known as the ag-gag bill,
which was scheduled for a vote by the California State Assembly
was withdrawn from consideration.  This ag-gag bill would have made it
illegal to video tape animal cruelty on factory farms and in

In recent years, video evidence obtained by animal welfare
investigators have uncovered shocking and widespread animal abuse.
Thus, the industrial animal industry would want to make video taping
of the animal cruelty a crime, NOT the cruelty itself.
The ag-gag laws, still in place in some states other than California,
are a desperate move by the industrial animal industry to keep the
everyday violence against animals and work-place conditions for workers
from the public view. This underscores how important concealment is to their continued
operations and product.

Over the last 10 years, countless video evidence obtained by
investigators shows slaughter plant workers displaying complete
disregard for the pain and misery they inflicted as they repeatedly
attempted to force "downed" animals onto their feet and into the human food chain.

Workers are seen kicking cows, ramming them with the
blades of a forklift, jabbing them in the eyes, and even torturing them
with a hose and water in attempts to force sick or injured animals to walk to slaughter.
Last year,  a video showed workers at an Iowa egg hatchery tossing male
chicks into a grinder. Industry groups said such instantaneous
euthanasia was a common practice because male chicks can't lay eggs or
be raised quickly enough to be sold for meat. And recently, Federal workers
closed a California slaughterhouse after a video showed terrible abuse of dairy
cows that were electrocuted and even shot multiple times before they were slaughtered
at the Central Valley Meat Co., according to the USDA.

Undercover investigations at factory farms and slaughter plants have
lead to some of the largest meat recalls in our nation's history.  They
have also helped to inform public policy, leading to the elimination of
the sale and production of foie gras in California, as well as motivating
many food producers to phase out gestation crates (for pigs), battery cages
(for chickens), and veal crates (for baby cows), all due to their inherent cruelty.

A majority of people do not support animal cruelty and
desire transparency in the food system.  Some people,
"want to believe" that those animals in the food chain are treated well
and perhaps those same people, only buy organic or free range products.
Unfortunately, slaughterhouses do not discriminate, and some of these
undercover investigations involved animals from "family farms",
such as the recent case of abuse at the Central Valley Meat Co.

When the fictional narrative the animal agri-business attempts to sell
us, doesn't meet reality, we are obligated to act on behalf of our
compassionate nature, to choose a better world.  The ag-gag laws are an indiscriminate
assault on our fundamental values of kindness and freedom.  They work against
animal welfare, worker rights, food safety and ultimately, the quality of democratic
deliberation in the United States.

John Merryfield

Friday, 15 February 2013

If You Love Animals, Boycott Plastic Bags. ~ John Merryfield

“Go vegan and nobody gets hurt!”

Great slogan, not entirely true. Some of us vegans like to distinguish ourselves as super human crusaders, in a competition to cause the least harm to animals.
I will be the first to say, ‘Put me in coach, I’m ready to play!’ But our lives on this beautiful planet earth are not a competition and viewing our choice to not eat animals and animal products as the highest form of service we can provide to animals (including wildlife) can deter us from looking elsewhere for how our other actions affect animals, humans and biosystems.
My wife and I live part of the year in Baja California, Mexico where I surf and generally live like a marine mammal. Here in Baja, there seems to be more suguaro cactus and loose plastic bags blowing in the hot dusty environment, than there are people.
Even if I stop at the market for two whole avocados, by the time those avocados get to the other side of the cajero (cashier) an eager, smiling Mexican kid has los dos aguacates in double ply plastic bags ready to go! These ubiquitous plastic bags easily find their way out of people’s hands, trash bins, or landfills and eventually find their way into the ocean.

Once in the ocean, they have a needlessly adverse effect is on coral reefs, sea turtles, whales, dolphin and all marine life.

It’s easy to get tunnel vision. The image of ourselves standing alone, with each of our choices seemingly separate from our other actions is a universal, ego based pitfall.
The contemporary vegan movement is founded on loving-kindness and mindfulness of others; based on the principles of nonviolence and the interconnectedness of all things. I like the word ‘Interbeing’ coined by the Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hahn.

As if a verb, in motion, living life in unity of all things.

Our interconnection is deeply beautiful and at the same time, perplexingly troublesome; all of our thoughts and actions matter, in a sometimes unseen, web of connection. Birds, mice and rats are killed in the production of our grains. Marine life are affected by shoreline development. Untold numbers of animal species are affected in the production of fossil fuels for our energy needs…ad infinitum.
More and more cities and states in the United States are banning plastic bags; the entire state of Hawaii and even small mountain towns like Truckee, California, have voted to ban plastic bags and there is revived legislation in California to ban plastic bags statewide.

I’m thrilled to report that there is progress being made in Baja California, Mexico, because of grass-root groups like AICMMARH A.C. and Costa Salvaje, educating a new generation to protect ocean life.

Living “interbeing” is not as simple as just passing on the carne asada tacos. It might also mean juggling two avocados, a stack of fresh tortillas, a can of beans and a papaya in our two hands, with the inside of our elbows and our lowered, determined chins as we leave the market because we forgot our reusable shopping bags and won’t use the market’s plastic bags.
So, if you love animals, boycott plastic bags…oh yeah…and go vegan!