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In the Vegetarian & Vegan News...
   Sabrina Nelson | VegSource Interactive, Inc.

Are We Treehuggers?
Why We Care
by Sabrina Nelson

"I understand to some people, I'm just a dirty, tree-hugging hippie, but
I can't imagine being able to take a chain saw to something like this."

Julia "Butterfly" Hill
(who sat in a 600-year-old redwood tree for two years to save it)

Years ago, in the earliest days after giving birth to my first children - twin daughters - I was so exhausted I didnít have a moment to think about who I was or what I was doing. I remember a friend calling me who was trying to get pregnant, and asking me, "So, have you changed?" And I said no, I was still the same person, and having these children hadnít really altered me, other than draining me of energy.

But over time, the depth of what I had stepped into hit me, and I began to grasp the immensity of the responsibility I had assumed. And I recognized that I had, in fact, been transformed in many subtle ways. Prior to giving birth, I didnít know when you picked up your crying newborn that they immediately recognize you, their mother. That when they touch your skin and smell you, they suddenly melt into you, and every bit of tension in their little bodies disappears. They didnít do this for anyone else. I felt as protective as a fierce mother bear.

Thereís no way I could have known what having children would do to my consciousness. Powerful concerns developed as my children did, motivating me to take action: We have to get a safe baby seat; we need to get a safer car; weíve got to move to a safer neighborhood; we need to find a good school, and so on.

It takes time to notice when youíve changed. Thereís a process you go through. Thereís ignorance; thereís education; then awareness; deeper understanding - and finally thereís action. After having read so many piles of parenting books, I recognized that there was no way to fathom what this experience would mean to me. It took a baby's cry to wake me up. I had to see first hand what it means to raise another human.


Vegetarian Awakening

It was a few years earlier that John Robbins, through Diet For a New America, awakened me in a different way. In 1990, after reading Robbins' classic bestseller, my husband Jeff and I both became vegetarian. We read the same book and stopped eating meat - but for different reasons. The health arguments seemed obvious to Jeff. For me, the appalling conditions of factory-farmed chickens reminded me of the much-beloved pet chickens Iíd had as a child. If I wouldnít have eaten my friends then, why was I eating them now?

Five years down the vegetarian path, being veg wasnít something that we thought about. That was just the way we lived. Were we different? Well, we didnít eat meat, chicken or fish, but beyond that we thought we were the same people.

Our twin girls, then two, were thriving and I was five months pregnant with my son. During what should have been a peaceful, happy time, I was hit in the head -- literally -- by another life lesson. One night I awoke screaming in pain because of what felt like a severe sunburn on my ears. I went to the bathroom mirror and it looked like my ears were bubbling with blisters. I thought I was having an allergic reaction to some shampoo.

Some months and several doctors later, I was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease. I was told it was progressive, incurable and potentially fatal, but that they could teach me how to live with the symptoms. Whoop-di-do. I was given a steroid called prednisone in my first visit - whose side effects over time can be worse than the disease itself.

It wasnít until ten months later that I read a book by John McDougall, MD, that had been sitting for a year and a half on my bookshelf. In it, he mentioned autoimmune diseases in the Lupus family (like mine), and said that dairy could be a factor.

Sure, weíd run into some people over the years who had railed at us about the dangers and cruelty of dairy. But I tend not to believe or listen to people who scream at me. Dr. McDougallís calm, matter-of-fact tone had the same impact that John Robbinsí Diet for a New America had had on me. With Robbins I became an instant vegetarian; with McDougall I instantly adopted a vegan diet.

One month after dropping dairy, this horrible disease went into remission, where it has stayed ever since. I went from no hope to new hope.

You canít go through the diagnosis and subsequent conquering of a scary, major disease, and remain unchanged. I prayed a lot when I was sick. I wanted to be there for my kids and my family. I couldnít with this disease. I made a promise to God (several times, actually) that I would help others in whatever way I could, if only I could get better.

Stumbling Toward Activism

A month after my disease went into remission, my husband and I opened a website to promote plant-based eating. We also put up a website called RelapsingPolychondritis.com. the name of the disease I beat. Through that website, I have come in contact with hundreds of others suffering from that debilitating disease, and with Dr. McDougallís help have been doing support work, turning other people on to plant-based nutrition, and following their progress as they improve, some as dramatically as I have.

I put up my personal story on the Internet despite the fact that Iím a private person who, when first diagnosed, never even told anyone outside of my immediate family members that I was sick. I could barely admit it to myself. But because I got well, I felt it would be unfair of me if I failed to share my experiences, as others might have a shot at regaining their health too.

My husband and I joined EarthSave for the same reasons we opened our websites; it offers a wonderful opportunity to help others, and to help ourselves. Our concerns have grown beyond safe car seats, etc. -- we want to help ensure that our kids grow up on the healthiest, safest planet possible.

While traveling to Yosemite over the winter holiday, we marveled at this National Parkís grandeur. I feel an immense gratitude that itís there, that something like it exists. Iím grateful that people in the past peered into the future and comprehended that this spot on Earth was special, and needed to be preserved. Iím thankful that I could and can share something so awesome with my children.

To me, our entire planet is Yosemite. Itís a very special place -- and itís not infinite. According to the "Living Planet Report 2000" published last October by the World Wide Fund for Nature: "If people in the developing world gobbled up the same amount of natural resources as people in wealthy countries, the human race would require two additional Earths. In particular, the United States, Canada, Australia and Germany are devouring far more than their earthly share."

One of the reasons EarthSave exists is to educate people about the fact that by shifting away from animal-based agriculture, perhaps we will be able to live on the resources of one planet, rather than three. This is thinking today about the future of our world, the same way caring people considered the future of Yosemite, back in 1864.

Looking Ahead

I think about the future, all the time. This is one reason Iím an EarthSave member. I care about the health of the people I love; I care about the planet; and I care about the creatures we share this world with. The EarthSave mission is to safeguard the things that are important to me.

The tone of EarthSave is also very appealing to me. Quoting the EarthSave chapter manual:

We strive to be nonjudgemental, to accept people wherever they are on the food-choice continuum. EarthSave is an inclusive health and environmental education organization. People come to EarthSave and more plant-based food choices for many reasons -- for their health, the environment, for the animals or spiritual considerations. Eventually many embrace the other reasons in addition to their original interest. EarthSave is open to all people who embrace our basic message that what we eat affects our own health and that of the planet.

On our vegetarian website trolls occasionally get a kick out of posting such messages as, "If God didnít mean for man to eat animals, why did he make them out of meat?" or "Youíre a bunch of bleeding-heart, liberal treehuggers who care more about spotted owls than people!" Accusing someone of being a "treehugger" is supposed to be an insult.

Am I a treehugger? Am I a treehugger because I want my kids to have clean air, clean water, healthy food and a compassionate planet to live on? Does being a member of Earthsave make me a treehugger? Does giving a damn at all tar me with that name?

Honestly, I donít have time (or the inclination) to go out and sit in a tree ala Julia Butterly Hill in order to make a statement -- however powerful that statement may be. But I can invite people to my home for a vegetarian potluck. I can take a friend or two to a vegetarian restaurant, and let them see how delicious vegetarian food can be, and perhaps steer them toward the passage I began 10 years ago, a course triggered by my reading Diet for a New America. I can belong to EarthSave. This is my personal statement.

If my desire to take an active part in Earthsaveís critical mission makes me a treehugger in the eyes of some, Iíll wear that label proudly.

Sabrina Nelson
is the WebWitch at VegSource.com and is a lifetime member of EarthSave International.

From other EarthSave Members:

"I stay a vegetarian because of the horrific way meat animals are treated. It is so far beyond inhumane, it is revolting. With information from EarthSave, I have been able to gently influence othersí perceptions, and now have two old friends who are new vegetarians, one for health reasons, the other for the love of animals. EarthSave makes a difference." -- Jodi L. Daly, Fallbrook, CA

"Eating less or no meat is responsible and healthy. I feel like I'm loving my world." -- Makiah Wenger, Salt Lake City, Utah

"I am an Earthsave member because it is important to me to be part of an organization that not only supports a plant-based diet for the environment and health, but also educates people about it. I think education is the most important thing an organization can do, especially in an intelligent manner, instead of using shock effect the way other organizations do. Earthsave is good about reaching people in a manner that is not offensive, and in my opinion this can be a good way to have people be more open to being educated on the benefits of a plant-based diet." -- Cherrie Jacobsen, Olympia, WA

"Six years ago, my husband took early retirement at 51 and we decided, as a family with young children, that we would live in a way that was kind to the earth. We grow our own vegetables to avoid the pesticide build up on our food, and the damaging effect it has on the soil. We hope that our lifestyle is as healthy as we can make it, and our motto is to tread lightly on the earth and to reduce reuse and recycle all that we can." -- Jan Bird, from a small village near Birmingham, England

"What I love about EarthSave is that there is room for all those who care to learn, to share, to act on what we come to know." -- Larry Fried, Seattle, WA

Interested in joining EarthSave? Click here to learn more.

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