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George Harrison: Living in the Vegetarian World

By Gail Flug

Today marks ten years since the death of George Harrison.  As a life-long Beatles fan, mere words cannot express how much their music has been the soundtrack to my life and an endless source of inspiration and pure joy so I will not try, nor bore you with the long-winded particulars. However, I will confess that I am drawn to George’s solo work more than the others due to its spiritual essence, uplifting melodies and his distinctive guitarwork.  There is no need for further depressing details, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who meets this anniversary with a heavy heart.

Although they disbanded over 40 years ago, the Beatles remain as current and relevant as ever, but recently George’s life was brought under the microscope with Living In The Material World – the three-hour plus biopic directed by the legendary Martin Scorsese. Under the guidance of Harrison’s widow, Olivia (who produced the film), the life story of the Beatles’ lead guitarist is told brilliantly through photographs, interviews and film footage.  And while George’s long-time commitment to being vegetarian may not be as important as the some of the more historical facts left out or given minimal time – i.e. the “My Sweet Lord” plagiarism lawsuit, John’s death and the Beatles’ reunion in 1995 – I do believe it played a major role in George’s life.

George may have not been the first Beatle to go vegetarian – early quotes from John Lennon speculate he was veggie in the early to mid–‘60s – but he was indeed the first to commit to it. As for when and why, my research points to around 1966, and contrary to popular belief, it was not due to religious reasons.  In her autobiography Wonderful Tonight, his ex-wife Pattie Boyd states that she and George stopping eating meat when a friend gave them a book about the inhumane treatment within the veal industry.  (Pattie adds that while George remained vegetarian for the rest of his life, she went back to eating meat when she left him for Eric Clapton in the early ‘70s.)

Another element in the timeline is found in the Beatles Anthology book. It recalls that during the filming of Help, the band was each given a copy of The Illustrated Book of Yoga from the author Swami Vishnudevananda. George read the book years later when he became interested in Indian philosophy and was planning a trip to Rishikesh. George is quoted: “I read his book after I became vegetarian. The thing that repelled me about eating meat was the idea of killing animals. But the main issue is that meat-eating is not healthy and it’s not natural. In the book he says things like: monkeys don’t get headaches; all human ailments and diseases come from an unnatural diet.”  Elsewhere in Anthology, George states that he thought the “Butcher Cover” photos (where the band posed with headless dolls and raw meat) was gross and stupid, and he was disgusted by the whole thing. Perhaps his love for animals brought him to vegetarianism, but his belief in Eastern religions and spiritualism made his dedication to it that much stronger.

Unlike his bandmate Paul McCartney – who along with wife Linda went veggie in the ‘70s and both became strong animal rights advocates – George was somewhat private about his vegetarianism, although like many vegetarian homes, he and Olivia would not allow meat to be cooked or served there.  (It would be an unjust to detail the McCartney’s work devotion to animal rights and vegetarianism here; that will wait for a future post.)  John Lennon was vegetarian on and off. He and Yoko discovered macrobiotics in the late ‘60s, and he is said to have switched back to eating meat at times throughout his life. Plus they ate sushi often. Ringo Starr is currently a vegetarian, but I’m not sure how long he has been. Web sites speculate he started when the Beatles went to India in 1968, but I believe it was much later. His entry to Mary Frampton’s Rock & Roll Recipes (published in 1980) was simply: “Travel to your local fish and chips shop.  Ask for cod and chips. Add salt and vinegar to taste. Eat with fingers for best results.”

Fortunately, that book also featured George’s recipe for Lentil Soup along with other recipes from notable ‘70s musicians such as Steve Howe, Keith Emerson, Steve Winwood and, of course, Mary’s ex-husband Peter Frampton.  It’s long out-of-print, but the recipe has appeared in other cookbooks as well as on plenty of websites. I made it, and it was quite good!

Dark Horse Lentil Soup
photo ©2011 by Gail Flug

Dark Horse Lentil Soup

1 Red Chili
1 Teaspoon Cumin Seeds
2 Large Onions, Chopped
2 Garlic Cloves
1 Cup Lentils (you can use one or more types)
2 Large Tomatoes, Chopped
2 Green Peppers, Chopped
1 Bay Leaf
Salt and Pepper to taste

Heat a small amount of oil in a frying pan. When oil is good and hot, add the red chili and cumin seeds. When the seeds stop sputtering, brown the onions and garlic in the seasoned oil.

In a separate deep pan, wash the lentils in plenty of water. When clean, liberally cover with water. When the onions are browned, add them to the pan of lentils. Now add the tomatoes, peppers, bay leaf, salt and pepper. Potatoes and carrots and small boiling onions may be added for a more substantial meal.

Bring to a boil, cover and turn down to very low heat. The soup is ready to serve in an hour and tastes even better the next day.

What A Difference A Day Makes

This wonderful clip was commissioned by Animal Aid – one of the largest and longest established animal rights groups in the United Kingdom. In less than two minutes it explains how eating vegetarian for one day a week could help the environment from a logical point of view. It was created by the award-winning, London-based design / motion company Taylor McKenzie to help launch the Meatless Monday campaign.

According to a post on the Animal Aid website, livestock farming and animal slaughter is now recognized as a significant contributor to many environmental problems. They report that the United Nations stated that it is responsible for 18 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, which is more than the entire transport sector combined. Other environmental groups say the figure could be more than 50 per cent.

In my opinion, this video is a perfect way to educate and inspire others to at least think about the meat industry.  It drives the point without relying on graphic images of animal torture or judgmental messages which often turn people off to vegetarian causes. Instead, it encourages all to eat meat-free just one day a week – certainly doable even to a devoted meat-and-potatoes person – and the message is neither heavy nor guilt ridden. The accompany music – a loop of the lively piano intro of Moby’s “In My Heart” – works in perfect synch the upbeat theme.





 Download “In My Heart” at Amazon.com

Steve Vai: A Spiritual Journey Through Vegetarianism

Virtuoso Steve Vai is one of those rare gifted guitarists whose style is unclassifiable and talents are far-reaching, allowing him to cross over several musical genres with ease. The three-time Grammy Award-winning musician began his professional career with Frank Zappa while studying at the Berklee College of Music and has been feted by guitar aficionados and journalists alike since he released his first solo album Flex-able in 1984, while the public at large know him best from his time playing with Alcatrazz, the David Lee Roth Band and Whitesnake throughout the Eighties. The Long Island native continues to dazzle fans nearly three decades later as a solo artist, producer and composer, having released seven more solo albums, guested on countless albums, completions and soundtracks, toured on his own as well as with the G3 tour and started his own label called Favored Nations. Beyond his prolific music work, Steve keeps busy with various music-related charities; in 1998 Vai founded the Make A Noise Foundation, whose goal is to provide funding for music education and programs for those unable to pursue music-related activities due to limited resources.

Perhaps one aspect of his life that many fans may not know about is his vegetarianism. In this interview, Steve speaks about going vegetarian first for health reasons, then later discovering its life-changing results. Watch for a future post about Steve’s beekeeping, a hobby which brought him media attention as well as controversy from several animal advocates.

What kind of vegetarian are you?
I don’t eat meat, fish, chicken or eggs or anything made with those ingredients, so I’m not vegan. I would never pour myself a glass of milk, but I do like cheese, I eat ice cream occasionally along with yogurt, cottage cheese, but I don’t eat eggs.

So you are not quite vegan…
I think everyone has to find what’s right for them. I don’t judge anybody for what they eat. That’s their world and everybody has to find what resonates with them. The kind of diet that I eat is based on a lot of different things, some soul searching and just reaction. There is a certain moral value to the reason I eat the way I eat. I have great respect for vegans, but it’s hard being a vegan and just doesn’t work for me on a convenience level.

What made you go vegetarian?
When I was younger, I could stuff five Big Macs in my mouth. I probably ate meat three times a day. I was constantly sick, there was always something; I had bad digestion, I had awful skin. I used to suffer from what they call hereditary migraines, which were so powerful and so bad that they laid me out. I would throw up occasionally, and it just got to the point that I was feeling so unhealthy. What happens is everything that we put in our body has everything to do with our mental and physical equilibrium. It’s all part of the same thing. And you really have to find what‘s right for you. I went into a very, very deep, dark depression when I was between 20 and 21 years old and was suffering from severe anxiety. It was a very dark period for me. I didn’t know what it was or why it was, but I was in bad shape. I had always been a seeker for spiritual truth and I wasn’t getting it, plus I think I was eating so bad… I had to make a change. A friend gave me The Complete Illustrated Book Of Yoga, and within it the Yogi talked about the benefits of vegetarian living. I had to make a change. I never really enjoyed eating meat. There was always something about it that didn’t resonate with me, and I became a vegetarian.  I started exercising and cut out all crap food. I stopped eating processed salt foods and sugar, although these days I still eat salt and sugar, but not like I used to. My life changed completely. I can’t even tell you the dramatic change in my life. This happened on my 22nd birthday, and for about six months, I just slowly went up up up with my mental and physical outlook and started feeling happiness. And you know, I can count on one crippled hand the amount of times I’ve suffered from a migraine since that day. If I threw up once in five years it’s because I had a terrible flu or something as opposed to once a month. I never get diarrhea unless I drink the water in Mexico. The only time I get a headache is if I eat too much popcorn with salt. It was a dramatic change, and it changes our mind and the way we think. Heavy foods excite the passions and dull the intellect, and I noticed that when I stopped eating heavy foods.

I can relate with the migraines. I used to get painful ones as well, and they stopped when I went vegetarian. I can’t remember the last time I had one.
It’s like a well kept secret but you can’t tell people that. And I’ve noticed there was a time — and we are talking for me over 25 years ago — if you told people you were a vegetarian they thought you were really weird, and in some places it’s still like that. I don’t talk about it because it doesn’t matter and usually if I am talking to someone about vegetarianism, it’s either because they’re inquisitive because in their heart of hearts they are not comfortable eating meat, or they just want to argue with you about it. So I only engage in conversation with people who are genuinely interested because it resonates with them.

“One of the things which makes total sense to me, just as plain as one-plus-one equals two, is being a vegetarian.”

I find it sad that some people can argue with you that you’re not vegetarian enough.
Part of the reason why some people become vegetarians is for the non-violent nature of it and that resonates with me very strongly. I never felt good about the idea of eating meat because when I think about it, it is completely, absolutely repulsive. For years I couldn’t even sit at a table if somebody was eating meat. I never told anyone, I would just try to tolerate it, but through the years you just develop this tolerance, but it’s hard because I connect the two things.  I connect the fact that eating meat is a violent thing, and I just don’t want to be part of it. Then there are the practical reasons. The human anatomy is not built to be meat eaters; we are herbivores. You can tell by the way our teeth and the way our digestion system is built and the enzymes that we secrete. All these things point to being an herbivore, but go tell that to a truck driver in Texas. But usually when I talk to people who are vegetarian, if they are doing it for health reasons, most of the time they go back to eating meat, but if it’s for non-violent spiritual reasons, they usually never go back because they really connect the two.

I have found that as well. I always sensed you have a spiritual side….
Well, everyone has a spiritual side. I have been a seeker of spiritual truth my whole life, and I have a very scientific approach in a sense that I can only understand things that make sense to me. I don’t follow folklore and weird ritualistic things or miracles or any of that stuff because some of it doesn’t make sense as being possible. And there are a lot of things about the spiritual realm that makes sense to me and that is what I follow. I only believe things that I experience with my own kind of conscious sense of abilities, and one of the things which makes total sense to me, just as plain as one-plus-one equals two, is being a vegetarian.

How has being vegetarian affected your music?
It has affected my music in a way I believe that what we put in our bodies has a reflection on the way we think. And the way we think has a reflection on what we create. So I can’t tell you consciously how being a vegetarian affected my music but I’m sure it has.

Is it hard to keep this lifestyle when you are touring?
I’m not finicky at all. I’ll eat a baked potato and be very happy, but it’s hard to find a baked potato in some places that’s not stuffed with meat so I carry food with me sometimes. It is tough. One of the things that happens to me when I’m on tour is I lose a lot of weight, and I have to be really careful because I can lose too much and start getting sick. I go to sit down, and I have no ass.

Well there is always peanut butter.
Almond butter. It’s really good for you!

Are the rest of your family vegetarians?
My wife [Pia] was vegetarian for many years and then she started eating fish, but she still doesn’t eat meat or chicken. I have two boys and through their whole lives they were vegetarian, they did not eat any meat, fish or chicken, but they did eat eggs and dairy. When they became teenagers my older boy [Julian] started eating meat but later went back to being sort-of vegetarian, more than not. And my younger boy [Fire] started eating fish but never started eating meat.

Well, you can’t force them…
Like any parent, I just feel it’s important for me to do my best to give them what I feel is right, but they reach an age where they have to make up their own minds about stuff. I don’t want my kids to not eat meat because I tell them not to. I want them to understand what it is, what they are putting in their mouths and the effect it has on their body, their mind and their soul; and let them make the decision for themselves. I don’t judge or criticize anyone for what they eat.

Well I think that is why a lot people get turned off by some vegetarians because they come across as being too preachy. I try not to unless it relates to a health issue, as you mentioned with the migraines. I suggest they try going veg for a month as it worked for me…
What is the response?

They usually say they like meat too much.
A lot of times when I see people getting on their holy horse and beating other people up it’s usually that they are doing that to convince themselves of what they are doing because they are not really secure in their ways. If you are secure, you don’t care what anybody else is doing. People are saying ‘What about the rights of animals?’ And if your desire is to preach the rights of animals, well God bless you. I think that that is wonderful, but you also can be pissing people off and they don’t care. For me, the best way to preach is by my own actions, by setting an example the best that I can. That is the best example you set.

External Links:

Steve Vai Official Web Site
Favored Nations (Steve’s label)
Digital Nations
Steve on Facebook
Make A Noise Foundation
Steve Vai on Amazon.com

So what is a vegetarian anyway?

The phrase “vegetarian” is often misrepresented by those who do not quite understand it. Although there’s proof that vegetarianism goes back as far as the 8th century B.C. — before the mid-1800’s non-meat eaters were often known as “Pythagoreans” or adherents of the “Pythagorean System,” after the ancient Greek “vegetarian” Pythagoras — the actual name and definition was established in September of 1840 by a reformed British politician named Joseph Brotherton and others at the initial meeting of the Vegetarian Society of the United Kingdom. (Another interesting fact: Brotherton’s wife Martha is credited to have written the first vegetarian cookbook, A New System of Vegetable Cookery, in 1812.) In 1908, the International Vegetarian Union was formed to unite similar organizations within Europe and later the world. It still is going strong – most of the facts for this post come from their website; a fantastic resource for information, articles and recipes from around the globe.

The original definition of “vegetarian” was “with or without eggs or dairy products,” and that classification is still used by the Vegetarian Society today. However, it is an umbrella term. As vegetarians’ dietary restrictions evolved – due to ethical, health or religious beliefs – so has some people’s classification of “meat”. For example, within the kosher law (which can be very complicated) only certain warm blooded animals are restricted and fish (with the exception of shellfish) is not considered meat at all and can be served with dairy. The idea that fish is not meat is quite common, but not within vegetarian guidelines. Slaughter by-products, such as gelatin, lard and animal rennet, are also avoided within the vegetarian diet.

With that in mind, here are the different types of vegetarians. Take note that all terms are always in reference to diet only. There are vegetarians who wear leather and may or may not use non-food animal by-products, but are at the very least the first description below:

Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian: Is defined as an individual who does not eat meat, poultry, fish or slaughter animal by-products, yet consumes eggs and milk products. Latco and ovo come from the Latin words for milk and egg respectively. This is the most common type of vegetarian in most Western countries.

Ovo Vegetarian: Same as above with the elimination of milk products.

Lacto Vegetarian: Same as above with the elimination of eggs.

Vegan: Excludes all animal products including eggs and milk products as well as non-slaughter animal derivative products such as honey. True veganism extends diet restriction with the elimination for use of all animal by-products including clothing (such as wool and silk) household items (beeswax, bone china and down) cosmetic ingredients and more. The actual term “vegan” was defined in 1944 by Donald and Dorothy Watson who founded the British Vegan Society on November 1st of that year. The American Vegan Society was established in 1960.

Recently other definitions have been added to the mix. Almost-vegetarian and Pseudo-vegetarian have been used to describe someone who avoids meat from warm-blooded mammals (beef, pork, lamb, etc) and poultry, but still regularly eats fish. However, by true vegetarian standards they are not. They are called Pescetarians, a term combining the Italian word for fish (pesce) and vegetarian. Raw Foodism, a diet based on uncooked vegetables, fruits, nuts and other food not heated over 104 degrees, can be either vegetarian or not as some who follow it eat sushi, sashimi and other raw meats. Fruitarians take veganism a step further as they will only eat fruits, nuts and other foods that can be harvested without killing the plant. For example, apples and nuts are acceptable as they are picked off a tree; carrots are not as the entire plant is consumed. Certain foods which are considered vegetables such as eggplant, tomatoes and peppers are included as they also are grown from the plant.

Macrobiotics is based on eating unprocessed foods like grains, beans, nuts and other raw foods with restrictions on refined products, sugar, additives and chemicals including pharmaceutics. The basics of this diet often cross into vegetarianism, as a lot of the food and philosophy are the same, but as plenty of vegetarians have no problem eating sweets, macrobiotics allow fish and poultry on occasion.

The terms carnivore and herbivore have been used as well, but they do not relate to humans. Carnivores (which include animals such as tigers, lions and like) eat mainly flesh while herbivores (deer, cows and various reptiles) graze solely on plants.

To complicate this more, certain foods are restricted due to religious beliefs – for instance some Buddhists avoid onions and garlic – yet in some Eastern cultures it is completely acceptable to eat cats and dogs.

This post is intended to be a starting point for the uninitiated to understand the basics. For more detailed information, check in with some of the sites located in my links section or consult with your favorite search engine. And, watch for more “educational” based posts in the future.

WTF is… Gelatin

By Gail Flug

In this section of Veggies-Rock, we will explore vegetarian and non-vegetarian food products and additives. You may discover a new food you may wish to try, or discover something about one you may never want to eat again. The first installment may fall into the latter category.

I often tell people that if you knew what Jell-O is – or how its key ingredient gelatin is made – you may never eat it again.  I too was shocked to find out it was not only derived from animals, but the unused parts a butcher throws away such as the hooves, organs, skin, bones, and hides. (Sorry for that graphic image.)  My awakening to this came from a TV show called “The Straight Dope,” which was a short-lived program on A&E based on a long-running newspaper column of the same name. It aired in the mid-’90s when I was turning vegetarian, so it was perfect timing when I discovered it . Who would think this colorful concoction my mom made me would have such an unpleasant source. Unfortunately, I can’t find the clip anywhere, but the gory details are available at the Straight Dope website, where you will also find years of archived information from their columns and books. (Proceed with caution – inquisitive minds could spend a long time there.)

According to the Gelatin Manufacturers Institute of America (yes, there is such a thing) the earliest records of gelatin production trace to the 1600s. It is basically an end product of the collagen, proteins and other elements which have been extracted from the aforementioned animal parts. Strong acids, lime and other chemicals break down the animals’ tissues, and it is then boiled, filtered, dried and ground into a powder. This compound melts when mixed with water and heated, but becomes a solid as it cools. It is tasteless and colorless, so other ingredients or chemicals may be added during its powder form depending on what it will be used as.

While you may now run from a bowl of Jell-O, the truth is that it is quite difficult to avoid gelatin completely. As it is fat-free and not expensive to produce, it is used as thickening agent in many foods such as candies, marshmallows, soup and yogurt as well as the being the digestible casing for vitamins and pharmaceuticals.  It is also a component in countless everyday products including photographic film, cosmetics, glue and the colored gels used in lighting rigs.

There are vegan alternatives, but since they are more expensive to produce they tend to cost more. Kosher gelatin may or may not be vegan; it only means it did not come from pigs or animals slaughtered by kosher standards. It can also be made from fish bones. Vegan gelatin desserts are made with agar, which comes from seaweed. You can buy them in Asian food stores.  Oddly enough, Jell-O brand desserts contain gelatin while Hunt’s Snack Pack (and others) are vegan.

But rest easy, non-veggies. Consumption of gelatin is as harmless as any foodstuff, if not safer as it has been refined and sterilized during the production process. But in the end there is no question where it comes from.