Compromising Principles

Louise recently did a post questioning how vegans know for sure that they’re not accidentally consuming animal products in some way. She points out that the H1N1 vaccine contains squalene, which is derived from shark livers. She later asks:

But can you really call yourself a vegan if you knowingly use or eat something that is made using animal products?

It’s an interesting question. 

I actually wonder how many people no longer label themselves vegan or vegetarian in order to avoid challenges like this.

I usually just say, “I don’t eat meat.” “So, you’re a vegetarian?” people then ask. “Well, more or less.” I say. “I occasionally eat fish.”  Then people get very excited, point at me and gleefully say, “You’re not a REAL vegetarian if you eat fish!” Like they’ve caught me committing a crime of some sort.

Or if we’re out at a restaurant, they make a big show of cutting into their bloody steak and waving a forkful of it in my face saying “Yum, yum…dead cow.” And I guess they expect me to hurl all over the table or something. But really, I don’t care what you eat. You’re a grown-up; you make your own food choices. And no, I’m not all that concerned if my veggie burger is cooked on the same grill as your sirloin burger

Some people are afraid to invite me for a meal because they think that if I don’t eat meat, I don’t eat anything. “But what do you eat?” they ask, befuddled, as if there were no food available on the planet that doesn’t involve meat.

I guess if you’re going to do anything against the mainstream, you’d better have a clearly defined and publicly-posted mission statement and stick to it like Krazy Glue or people are going to get really confused and even angry. “You’re a hypocrite!” they exclaim. “You’re not adhering to your principles!”

As far as I know there is no vegan/vegetarian manifesto to which anyone wanting to call themselves vegan or vegetarian must swear an oath of allegiance. There are no rules, except the rules of common decency:

  • If you’re invited somewhere for dinner don’t expect your hosts to cater to your dietary choices. Bring along a nice protein dish to share if you’re not sure of the menu. By the same token, if you’re hosting the dinner, it’s okay for you to not cook meat
  • If you’re dining with omnivores, don’t point out to them exactly how their delicious chicken was slaughtered. That’s just as rude as the guy mentioned above who’s waving the bloody steak in the veggie’s face.
  • And speaking of steaks, don’t go to a steak house and make a big scene if they don’t have a vegetarian option for you.  That’s just as ludicrous as an omnivore making a scene at a veggie restaurant for not being able to rustle him up a pork chop.

 I think that’s about it for rules per se.

 But still, if you avoid consuming animal products, but wear a woolly hat in the winter, you will be sneered at as some sort of vegan pretender. Wearing that woolly hat seems to negate all your professed concern for animal welfare. You are now no longer worthy of the vegan label and might as well dive into a vat of offal.

And yes, there are some vegans who will not wear a woolly hat or use Burt’s Bees Lip Balm because both of these things involve taking something from living creatures. And there are some who will scream at you for holding your pants up with a leather belt. But I think such strictly principled people are rare.

I think most of the people who are doing what they can to live a healthier lifestyle or one more earth friendly are pretty flexible. It can’t be emotionally or physically healthy to be too extreme about anything.

The fish thing, for instance. While I’m all in favour of eating as far down the food chain as possible and not killing anything just to fill my belly, I happen to think that the health benefits of fish outweigh my general objection to killing things.

And I would wear woolly things if they weren’t so itchy. And I like leather because it lasts forever. Because when you think about it maybe buying one leather sofa that lasts 40 years must be more economically and ecologically sound than buying 5 or 6 fabric sofas in that time, right?

And those uncompromising vegans may think that eating soy products are more cruelty-free than eating eggs, but if you’ve ever lived on a farm you’ll know there are probably a million critters living in a soy field – many of whom will get mangled in combines at harvest time.

And probably a lot of vegans will have the H1N1 vaccine despite the squalene and many vegetarians will eat cheese in a restaurant even though was probably made with rennet.

So, really, most non-PETA vegans/vegetarians don’t go around beating people over the head with their beliefs and probably don’t even make a point of calling themselves vegans or vegetarians. Because they know compromise is knowingly or unknowingly necessary all the time and you can’t get too mental about it. If you want people to think your lifestyle choices are sound, acting like a crazy person isn’t going to be very convincing.

People is Odd

I was surprised the other day when I read Leah’s blog, because Leah lives somewhere in Bohunk, USA and they were offering H1N1 vaccines at her son’s school to any kid who wanted it FOR FREE.

Meanwhile, in the land of mystical, magical health care (Canada), people can only get the vaccine if they line up for hours (often 7 or more hours and in the rain) at centers specially designated to dispense the vaccine and only those centers and only during certain hours of certain days, and now that they’re all running out of the vaccine, only people who are pre-screened and deemed to be at risk (and hockey players) are allowed to get it.

What’s the deal? Is all of the US awash with H1N1 vaccines?  Why is  this so complicated in Canada?


The other thing that I find interesting about this whole H1N1 hysteria is that people are frightened and worked up enough about the very small possibility of becoming ill from this flu or the even small possibility of becoming gravely ill or dying from this flu that they’ll stand in line for an entire day to get vaccinated; that they’ll buy a priority wrist band from someone else, who got it for free, in order to get their shot at staying healthy; that they’ll get into heated arguments with friends and family over the sheer “stupidity and recklessness”  of someone choosing not to get vaccinated.

And yet, these same people will scoff at and ignore suggestions that they make some small adjustments to their lifestyle in order to help prevent the very large probability of getting and maybe dying of cancer, heart disease, diabetes or other lifestyle-related and life-threatening illnesses.


Like every other workplace, mine is in the throes of freaking out about our pandemic plans and business contingency plans. How do we keep churning out vitally important government crap if everyone drops with flu at once? This eventuality needs to be meticulously planned for, in great detail and at great length.

So we’re writing up reams of documents – charts, graphs, spreadsheets – my god, the spreadsheets! And meetings! The meetings are endless. I had to go to one yesterday in a room they’re calling “The War Room” – where all the important pandemic-related spreadsheets are populated, stored and gazed at.

The room was tiny. And stuffy. And so freakin’ smelly. A small crowd of people work tirelessly in there with a bank of secure computers. They eat in there. They work in there late into the night. They come in on weekends. They’ve cancelled all their leave and vacations. They’re estranged from their friends and families. They never leave except to go home and shower and catch a few winks of anxiety-riddled sleep.

There was no air in the room. It was overly hot. (And did I mention smelly?). There was a big box of donuts in the middle of the table from which everyone was automatically and unthinkingly shovelling powdery, fried dough treats into their maw at regular intervals.

Everyone in the room was sick. Coughing, sneezing, watery eyes. They all looked tired, unkempt; a little manic. They were all at a strange level of hyper-stress.

“I am NOT sitting in this room with these people for an hour.” I thought to myself, trying not to inhale the funk of bacteria I could physically feel swarming around me. I sat by the door, almost in the doorway,  and insisted on leaving the door open. It made them very nervous. I Purelled myself thoroughly. They looked at me like they thought I had mental issues.

The meeting was completely unproductive even by normal meeting standards.

Elbow Snot

It’s cold and flu season again/still. Actually it seems to be cold and flu season all year long, does’t it? According to Health Canada , cold and flu season in this country is from November to April (Only half the year! Phew!)

So lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of people coughing and sneezing all over their clothing. Sneezing and coughing on your clothing seems to be all the rage this cold and flu season. The Center for Disease Control advocates using your clothing to catch your coughs and sneezes. The “Sneeze Doctor”,  Dr. Ben Lounsbury has made an entire career out of shoving the “Sleeve Sneeze” (aka “Dracula Cough”) down our raw, infected throats with his  Why Don’t We Do It In Our Sleeves propoganda.

The break-through science behind this bold, new disease-fighting technique is that splattering your germs onto fabric contains the germs and causes them to dry up and die — right there on your sleeves.

How revolutionary! (From the root word, “revolting”)

So, here’s my thought. If you’re sick enough to be sneezing and coughing all over the place — stay home. Or, if you absolutely need to be up and about, I can recommend an amazing product generically known as FACIAL TISSUES. I don’t know what they were originally invented for, but I’ve been using them quite successfully for years to capture the phlegm and debris from coughs and sneezes[1]. And they’re disposable![2] Yes, I use them and then I throw them away like boyfriends. Then I wash my hands or use some of that hand sanitizer everyone who’s anyone carries around these days. And then I’m  good to go.

Of course  there are people who have no common courtesy and sneeze all over other people or sneeze into their hands and then go and touch stuff other people are going to be touching.  And there are people who put their hands in or around their faces without washing their hands after  touching the stuff the people without common courtesy have touched. These people have no common sense and will get the plague sooner or later and die anyway.  We are not going to be able to save them by sleeve sneezing, trust me.

I’m thinking, however, maybe I’m not the only one who grew up in Rational-Human-Being-Land[3], where we were taught to always carry tissues when we were sick and to wash our hands after blowing our noses and to not suck on our fingers after shaking hands with someone who just coughed something green and slimy into his hands.

These time-tested practices now seem to be passé. Now we can’t be trusted to retain such complex information, so we are instructed (with colourful, easy-to-remember and entertaining instructional videos produced by people much smarter than they think we are) to  just expel our germs and bodily fluids onto our clothing.

Good grief, people! Are we hillbillies? Have we really regressed to the point where we’re back to wiping our noses on our sleeves?

What if you’re wearing a tank top or short sleeved shirt?[4] What if you’ve got a mouth full of oatmeal and have to sneeze or cough? What if you’ve got a snout full of snot and have to sneeze?

Ewwwww. That’s what.

And the really extra stupid thing I’m seeing is people just coughing or sneezing into the general direction of their sleeves so, while the person in front of them is sort of safe from the spray of bacteria and mucus, everyone beside and/or behind them gets a full blast. 

At the last minute some shred of these people’s abased dignity must have surfaced and told them that clothing is not the right place for snot. They recall, perhaps, that when they eat, they wipe their hands with serviettes and not on their trousers. And then they wonder if perhaps somewhere out there is a serviette-type thing for snot so they don’t have to wipe that on their clothing either.

Once upon a time ladies used to wipe their nether regions with their undergarments if they had to do their business outdoors and/or because the toilet paper of the day was too rough for their delicate skin. If we all get too stupid or lazy to remember to use toilet paper, will there be an instructional video asking, Why Don’t We Do It In Our Underpants?

So now I have to be afraid to sit too close to anyone or accidentally brush up against anyone in case I get elbow-snot transference. AND, the cherry on top of this whole nutty meringue is that they’re also trying, as Violetsky  recently pointed out,  to get us to stop shaking hands and kissing and to greet each other instead with — THE ELBOW BUMP!   


[1] You’re going to need one to blow or wipe your drippy nose anyway.
[2] I know, not environmentally friendly, right? And having to do extra laundry because your shirts are stiff with snot isn’t?  What about good old-fashioned handkerchiefs? Oh ya, people decided it was gross to sneeze into a piece of cloth you were going to carry around in your pocket.
[3] Just south of I-Learned-Some-Manners-Land, neighbouring Don’t-Blow-Your-Nose-On-Your-Shirtsleeve-Land.
[4] I’ve seen a woman in a tank top lift up the end of her long skirt and sneeze into that AND wipe her nose with it afterwards. I’ve seen a woman carrying a baby sneeze into her baby’s blanket because she couldn’t twist enough to get her sleeve. My nephew sneezed into my mother’s kitchen curtains once because it was summer and he wasn’t wearing sleeves. And I’ve seen people spewing things onto their clothes and then wiping it off with their hands. Excellent!



The question arose: why are we worried about germs on door-knobs and other hard surfaces and encouraged to hack germs all over our clothes? The Sleeve Sneeze people tell us germs just up and die on our clothes, but this didn’t make much sense to me so I did some research and found out that in order to thrive germs need moisture and food (just like us). Heres’ what else I found:

But even frequently handled hard surfaces like water faucets and door handles are not as big a source of infections as you might think, because germs don’t thrive on, or transfer well from, hard surfaces.

Germs transfer easily from the moist damp surface of the skin. The greatest risk of infection is from your hands touching someone else and then touching your face.

No bacteria or virus can live on dry surfaces with a humidity of less than 10 percent. Any sort of nutrients-food particles, skin cells, blood, mucus-helps microbes thrive…bacterial spore can survive for weeks on dry clothing using sloughed skin cells for food.

H1N1: Some Perspective

swine1Some people, mostly the media, are freaking out about this swine flu thing. It seems to lead every news story with words like, “death”.  

No one wants to go to Mexico anymore or be around anyone who looks remotely Hispanic and/or looks tanned enough to have perhaps been to Mexico recently.  Mexican produce languishes on grocery store shelves.

The Egyptians  are slaughtering their entire population (300,000) of pigs. China, refuses to buy yummy Canadian pork. Canadian bacon piles up at borders unwanted and unloved.


So, for those who are afraid or confused, I thought a little perspective would be helpful.

Approximately 217,000 people die in Canada every year. The largest percentage of these deaths (approximately 130,000) are from diseases of the circulatory system and cancer.

  • 3,100 are because of motor vehicle accidents
  • 5700 are because of other accidents and injuries
  • 3,700 are because of suicides
  • 8,000 are because of pneumonia and seasonal flu
  • 550 are homicides

Back in 2002/2003 we had the SARS almost-pandemic. Worldwide, 774 people died.

As of 6:00 am this morning 21 countries have reported 1124 cases of H1N1; 26 have died from complications of this virus – worldwide.

The normal every-day flu comes from 3 different strains of virus – A, B and C (no one every said scientists were creative). The annual flu vaccines are for types A & B, the most common.

Nevertheless this seasonal flu causes severe illness in 3 to 5 million people every year across the world and kills between 250,000 and 500,000. Children under 2, adults over 65 and people with medical conditions like chronic heart, lung, kidney, liver, blood or metabolic diseases (such as diabetes), or weakened immune systems are at risk for becoming very ill from the flu. The rest of us will have a crappy few days, lose a few pounds and move on with our lives.

With a little common sense and general preventive measures you can prevent infection of not only H1N1, but most other viruses:

  • Avoid close contact with people who appear unwell and have fever and cough;
  • Wash your hands with soap and water thoroughly and often;
  • Practice good health habits including adequate sleep, eating nutritious food, and keeping physically active.

If you do start to feel ill (fever, cough, headache, muscle and joint pain, sore throat and runny nose,  maybe even vomiting or diarrhoea), go see your doctor for a diagnosis and he/she will give you an antiviral drug like oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza) to make you all better.

OK? Now stop panicking everybody. Sheesh.