January 6, 2012

Santosa – the Other Not-Meat.

I went to a fabulous vegan restaurant last night for dinner.  The flavors were incredible (as was the atmosphere).  It got me thinking, again, about the relationship between santosa and happy veganism and the new vegans that I’ve recently been seeing comment here on elephant journal.

Santosa, or contentment, might not seem at all related to veganism, but I think it is.  The ability to be content with what you have, rather than yearning for what you do not have, is what makes a vegan diet not only possible but pleasing.  Unfortunately, some of the tools that we have to help us be vegan can actually get in the way of this contentment.

Vegan versions of meat items are a prime example.  I love my homemade seitan loaf (aka “fauxfurkey” or “tooforkey”).  I really do.  A sandwich with it is a marvelous and delicious thing.  But part of what makes me so happy with it is that I don’t expect it to taste like turkey.  I’m not yearning for the taste and texture of turkey when I take a bite.  I like this fauxfurkey on its own.  If I really wanted turkey, I would be disappointed with the fauxfurkey. But, because I’m appreciating it for itself, it’s all good.

This is true for most veganized versions of animal products, even basic things like soy milk.  I really like the taste of soy milk now.  I am pretty sure that I would select it over milk even if I weren’t vegan.  But, at first this was not the case.  At first, I wanted it to BE milk, and I came away from every experience unhappy that it wasn’t.  I started with the vanilla and chocolate versions, because everyone told me that they would taste like sweet flavored milk.  They did  not.  Eventually, to reduce the sugar in my diet, I started buying unsweetened unflavored soy milk, thinking that I couldn’t like it less.  I found that I actually liked it more, because I had no expectation of what it should be and could just taste what it was.

As I said in my vegan transition post, using prepared replacement foods can a good way to go at first if you are very busy or feeling overwhelmed by the change, because it makes the process seem more approachable.  But, as one moves forward in veganism over time, cultivating contentment in this way of eating means developing happiness with all that is available (the entirety of edible fruits, vegetables, and grains is a pretty big set of options) , instead of trying to recreate always what is not.  Even when “faux” _____ items are selected, there is a difference between choosing them because we like the taste of that product and choosing them because we are really yearning for the animal derived item.

Whether it’s a vegan diet, the house you own, the job you have, or the relationship you are in, santosa means embracing the now rather than focusing on the not.  As human animals we have the ability to think in terms of what we don’t have (Kenneth Burke defines human, in part, as the inventor of the negative).  But, just because we have that skill doesn’t mean we should use it all the time, and it certainly doesn’t mean it will always lead to happiness.  Vegan possibilities are almost endless.  Enjoy what is!

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