Q & A on my first year as a vegetarian

It has been almost a year since I left meat behind and changed my diet. People often ask me about what my experience has been like: Has it been hard? Did it cause you social stigma? What was hardest to give up? Are you protein deficient?

I thought I would compile my answers to some of the top questions I have gotten at dinner parties, social events and on planes, trains and automobiles as people heard that I had become plant-centric and plant-based.

Plant-based eating is the future. Millennials, rich people and highly educated people have known for a while, but we are on the brink of everyone else finding out now.

Why did you do it?

I did it for health reasons. After my father had a stroke, I started to get serious about my own health. His stroke happened on my 42nd birthday and it was a big deal for me – a shock and a reminder that no one is immortal.

I started looking into health causes of strokes and cardio events. All the evidence I could find was that veganism or vegetarianism reduces all cause mortality by a significant margin. This was brought home to me through the work of Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn whose book: Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease is very convincing. I highly recommend it.

Since then I discovered the wok of Dr. Michael Gregor, How Not To Die, which is an engaging read demonstrating the healthful power of vegan/plant-based eating.

Are you going to become vegan?

Right now, I am not on the road to becoming completely vegan.  However, I would say that I eat plant-based meals 60% of the time right now, with my only exceptions being eggs, cheese, and oysters!

Have you seen any health benefits?

Yes. Enormous. I have lost 20 lbs. My blood pressure has plummetted. As well, when I actually have a string of vegan days, my blood pressure gets down to 100/60, down from 130/80 when I was eating meat. As well – particularly on vegan days – my resting heart rate has dropped from ~77 to ~60.

But don’t you lack energy?

No, quite the opposite. My energy level is very high and I never get that sick feeling that I used to after eating meat. In fact, I recently bought a bike and have a goal of doing a triathlon this summer. There are many examples of plant-based and plant-centric athletes, such as Brendan Brazier and Rich Roll.

Ok. So you started for health reasons. How about the animals?

To be honest, I was not very aware of the plight of animals on farms when I started my vegetarian adventure. The fact is that many factory farm animals live lives of torture and suffering.

Watching movies like Cowspiracy and listening to Rich Roll’s excellent podcasts has reinforced this for me and brought home the healing power of plant-based (vegan) living. From duck-down coats, to your cosmetics tested on animals, to the coyote fur brimming your parka’s hood — you are being made a participant in the torture and slaughter of innocent sentient beings.

Once I came to this realisation, I couldn’t unthink it.

I am done with meat and I do my very best to avoid products that use animal parts such as skin, fur, feathers and down. Does that mean I am throwing away my leather couches or jacket? No. That would be absurd and disrespectful to the beings who gave their skin to the creation of that furniture or those clothes. Will I ever buy another leather couch or jacket? No.

So before you think I have become an animal rights fanatic or something let me explain.

Through my own lifestyle change, I have discovered that ending my consumption of products that depend on violence towards animals or their bodies and minds has enhanced my awareness of suffering in people too.

We should strive toward a non-violent, cruelty-free and suffering-free society for all sentient beings. That means animals and people.

How about the environment?

Animal husbandry is a greater source of emissions. The pollution doesn’t end there, either. Whether it is the incredible amounts of animal waste that factory farms generate or the methane those animals emit, the animal husbandry industry is a major contributor to climate change and polluter of our lakes, rivers and soil.

Was it hard to give up meat?

Yes, at first, it was. I longed for a burger at first. But after a while, I guess my microbiome changed and my body and mind stopped craving meat. In fact, I recently went to buy olives at the grocery store and found myself in the middle of deli section where the olives are found. I felt sick. The area looked like an abbatoir or a morgue. It smelled like death. I saw body parts all around me. I was repelled and left as fast as I could.

Do that mean you have become a delicate petal?

No. It means that over the course of the last year my body’s microbiome has changed and things that used to smell good to me now smell really gross.

How about cheese and dairy?

Well, I am not vegan. I enjoy cheese and eggs. I don’t like milk – I never have. I have always preferred soy or almond alternatives.  I love cheese in my pasta and on a caesar salad. I do prefer vegenaise to mayo.

On the one hand I recognize that cheese is full of saturated fat, which is bad for me. On the other hand, I don’t eat it massive quantities.

Also, I think (although many will disagree) that cheese and eggs can be ethically sourced. I have visited the farm that produces the eggs that I buy and the chickens look very happy. They run around the barnyard, eat lots of kale and bugs and worms, and run happily toward the farmer when he approaches. They really love him.

How about fish?

Well, I was a pescetarian for the first half of the year, but then I gave up the fish as well. I did this more for ethical reasons than for health ones – fish farming has a strongly negative environmental effect. Also, I found that my taste for flesh has really diminished and I don’t crave fish flesh. I have to admit that I still love oysters!

How about vitamin b-12 and omega-3?

I have discovered that you can get more than enough of both of these through flax and chia seeds or by supplementing. There is nothing better than overnight oats with lots of chia, hemp and/or ground flaxseed. Fortified almond milk can be a great source of b-12 as well.

How about protein?

Well, I still eat cheese which has protein. As well, I eat a lot of kale, beans and grains, which also have a lot of protein!

Has this been hard, socially?

Ha. No. In fact, I find that there are tons of veggie options at most restaurants. You just sometimes have to get a few appetizers and a salad instead of a main course.

Also, most people I have spoke with tell me that they would like to reduce or eliminate the meat in their diet. The percentage of vegetarians has been growing enormously in the last ten years, particularly among millennials who are the likeliest to be vegetarian of any generation.

I think meat-eating is going to quickly become something that old people, less-educated people and poorer people do, like smoking.

Alex, are you a fanatic now?

No, I am not. I have made a conscientious choice to do something for my health, for the good of animals and to help build a better, cruelty-free world.

Do you judge me for eating meat, Alex?

No, I don’t. You are just making a different life-choice than me.  It’s a choice. We live in a free country. You can do as you please.

It comes down to a simple thing: I don’t want a sentient being to have to die so that I can eat a meal.


Freedom of speech and public relations

Today’s barbaric and murderous attack on Charlie Hebdo, the satirical French weekly newsmagazine was the work of an imperialist movement that wants to impose one way of thinking on everyone else. One of the key elements of imposing your will on others is making sure that nobody is allowed to publicize an attractive alternative. There are two professions whose responsibility it is to present a diversity of perspectives and ideas to the public: journalism and public relations.

We have heard a lot today about the courage and responsibility of journalists – even satirical journalists – to challenge power and seek to present alternative perspectives. I would briefly like to reflect on the role of PR in this regard.

The role of public relations is represent organizations and individuals and try to fashion and manage their reputations, relationships and brands, amongst other things, of course. This would not be possible without freedom of speech. It would not be possible for practitioners to promote the ideas of minority groups, start up companies, civic action groups or social justice causes. The fact that over 40% of PR jobs are in the not-for-profit and government sectors is an indication of the how much professional communicators are involved in public communication.

Unlike journalists, who are by their very definition, external to organizations and to power, public relations practitioners usually provide counsel to organizations from the inside. They are often consiglieri to the leaders of organizations in the public, private and not-for-profit sectors. As PR counsel, we provide advice about how to best communicate in the court of public opinion – how to be heard, understood and believed. At our best, PR counsel helps ethically influence public opinion and inspires behaviour change that helps society progress.

Public relations and communications management form a profession that relies upon the ability to express diverse and often contradictory ideas publicly. PR pros put the ideas of our clients to the test of public controversy. As PR practitioners, we should be outspoken and fearless in stubbornly protecting freedom of speech – for the good of our profession and for the good of democracy.


Time is a Luxury

When we are children, we think that time stands still. As adults, we think it races. What does this mean about how we should organize our lives… should we live for the present or for the future?

Children anticipate the passage of time, looking forward to the end of the day, the end of the week, the next birthday. They play games and sports to while away the time, engaging in idle conversation and waiting for the next life milestone, which seems to come so slowly! I remember the salad days of childhood, when I would go for long walks with my father, walks which seemed to last forever – we’d talk about everything under the sun, jumping from topic to topic as we identified trees, grasses and animal tracks. I realize now how much I loved those hikes – more importantly, I realize now why I loved them.

I love them because the were each full of promise and freedom. I didn’t feel the constraint of time or obligation holding me back, worrying me. All I felt were sunlit paths that meandered through the woods in the Hockley Valley, King Township or Parry Sound. I didn’t worry about the future, I looked forward to it. Now, I realize what I regret about those walks… I now regret the fact that sometimes I was hurried, that I wanted time to go more quickly, that I thought that somehow the present was inferior to a more glorious future. Would that those fleeting moments of impatience were never part of my experience.

Now, as I enter my 40s, I realize how precious every day is. How I should be trying to savour each positive moment and not live in anticipation of a distant future. It’s true that it’s important to plan, but I have learned that once you put the plans in place and structure what you need to in your life, you should put the plan down and pay attention to the present that surrounds you. Otherwise, you will live in the dreamworld of a future that will never come!

So, my advice to you: be strategic, know your limits, plan and then relax and enjoy the journey, day by day, conversation by conversation, friendship by friendship.

5 reasons to join a professional association

In 2009, my colleague, mentor and friend Terry Flynn, suggested that I join the Canadian Public Relations Society. I did, and I have found it to be incredibly rewarding. I now recommend joining a professional society to every professional communicator I know.

Here are five reasons to join a professional association:

1. Ethics Code: One of the most valuable aspects of membership in a professional association is the ethics code that the association requires you to submit to. This may seem abstract until you face an ethical quandary and are able to say “My professional association ethics code doesn’t allow me to do this.” That’s a powerful argument for you to keep your practice ethical despite pressure.

2. Professional Accreditation: A postsecondary degree or diploma is an important first step toward building a career as a professional communicator, but validation by your professional peers provides a level of recognition that marks you as a seasoned and trusted professional. I am very proud of the APR designation that I earned through CPRS. I know colleagues who hold the ABC designation from IABC are equally proud of their achievement. Accreditation means that your industry peers think you are an ethical, competent strategic communicator – that’s golden!

3. Cultural and Social Capital: Membership is a first step toward building relationships, but the longer you remain a member the deeper your roots in the organization can grow. You can build serious social and cultural capital by being elected to association boards or sitting on committees.

4. Professional Development: It is hard to keep at the cutting edge of the profession after leaving college or university because time is a precious commodity. Professional associations have the resources to bring the best national and international experts to you so that you can meet them and learn from them.

5. Awareness of Opportunities: Professional associations are a great way of meeting like-minded people with whom you may share common goals and outlook. Those people can make you aware of professional and personal opportunities… a new job, client or friendship may await you!

Professional associations can help keep your career fresh. Below, you can find a brief bio of my involvement with CPRS, IABC, CIPR and others – I hope it inspires you get involved. If my positive experience is any guide, you’ll have a great time once you join your professional association of choice!

My professional society bio

Since 2009, when I joined CPRS Hamilton, and especially since I became program director of the McMaster-Syracuse MCM program, I have also joined the Toronto Chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators and the Chartered Institute for Public Relations (UK).

In 2011, at the invitation of committee chair Colleen Killingsworth, I began sitting on the National Education Council of the Canadian Public Relations Society, and also as Professional Development Chair for the Hamilton Chapter of CPRS. In 2013, I began sitting as CPRS’s representative to the international Commission on Public Relations Education.

In 2014, I became co-president of CPRS Hamilton (with Bob Deans, who passed away sadly) and am continuing in this role with Lisa Stocco as my co-president. Building on the excellence of preceding boards, we have been working on building the CPRS Hamilton brand in the minds of other professional societies, the business community and the public and not-for-profit sectors.


The challenges of teaching professional ethics

I have been having many discussions – with colleagues and practitioners – about what it means to teach ethics to professional communicators. Ethics is a challenging subject to teach at the best of times, because it requires that the practitioner have experience. How do you get a student or a mentee to have that experience, even if you need to do it vicariously, through case studies?

In her commentary piece in the latest issue of JPC, Patricia Parsons, a professor at Mount Saint Vincent University, discusses the challenges of teaching ethics in a professional program. In 2004 study she conducted (the results are as valid today as they were then!), she discovered the following eight challenges for public relations ethics education. Her JPC article fleshes out each challenge.

1. Failure to plan where the course ought to be placed in the curriculum.

2. Course objectives that fail to consider all three domains: knowledge, attitude and behaviour.

3. Failure to allow students to build on their own value systems and construct a new awareness from where they are.

4. Heavy reliance on case studies that focus on higher-level, managerial situations. The most commonly used method of instruction reported was the use of the case study.

5. A belief that the best guest speakers are those in high-level positions when most grads need to understand the non-managerial issues.

6. Taking a shotgun approach to ethics.

7. Failing to allow students time to reflect on what they are learning.

8. Lack of creativity in developing evaluation instruments. Reliance on tests and case studies is a more difficult issue than many of us are willing to admit.

You should read her JPC article. It’s a very thoughtful piece.