Influential Loss

We must keep our greatest treasures safe, at least until 2017. I need not mention their names in fear of jinxing anything.

As I’ve already mentioned, 2016 has not been kind to well-known names. Nobody has been safe from untimely death. I expect every following year to look quite similar, as so many of the stars we know and love grow older, often with a history of heavy substance use.

This was the case with our two most recent deaths, so close to each other, it’s almost hard to process, and it certainly hasn’t gotten easier. Along with George Michael dying on Christmas Day, we also lost our “space mom” Carrie Fisher. Although both stars are best recognized for single roles and songs, their impact on the world has far surpassed that.

In the case of Carrie Fisher, I especially admire her openness about her personal struggles, ones that are very relatable. She was a strong mental health advocate long before people really knew how common mental illness can be. She herself facing bipolar disorder, she wasn’t afraid to have honest conversations about her faults and her too-often reliance on pills to ease her symptoms. This addiction most likely played a role in her shortened life span, but her time in the public light making a difference in others’ lives was time very well spent.

Especially in past decades, heck, even a few years ago, talking openly about mental health at all wasn’t heard of. We understood even less than we do now, and that’s saying something. Fisher helped make approaching mental health easier. She didn’t call it easy by any means. She was real about it. She didn’t hide it, but she took it in stride, and that is something I admire. I wouldn’t know how bipolar disorder feels, but I know when my own mental illness becomes overwhelming, it takes me down hard. You would think it would get easier over time, but that isn’t the case. Anybody who is willing to advocate for the priority we must set on seeing mental health in a more accepting light.

Her death has sparked such a wonderful movement, encouraging people to open up about their own struggles with mental illness, and I cannot think of any better way to honor Fisher. With such a powerful message of “I have mental illness, but it does not have me,” I can think of nothing but praise in this case.

The way she spoke about mental health is but one voice hoping to destigmatize it. Those of us struggling, sometimes all we can do is laugh. We can empower ourselves simply by saying something. Silence is where stigma thrives. I certainly don’t expect all of us to become outspoken advocates and dedicate our time entirely to mental health, but Fisher demonstrates a model where we aren’t afraid to admit that we face demons. There is no shame in it. The ultimate shame should be in society, that we feel uncomfortable in the first place, that we cannot always expect reliable treatment or acceptance of our illnesses from others. All we can do in that case is find support from somebody else.

The fact that Fisher is revolutionary in the first place, that we aren’t just talking about mental health to begin with, is disappointing. We cannot rely on a few voices to lead the charge. It’s a collective effort. Communication is a two-way street. Making change, change that lasts, is a conscious choice. And when we lose that single voice, where do we stand now? Reflecting back on her efforts and not doing anything from there? It’s like putting your eggs all in one basket.

We are and always losing people. That’s life. But the legacies we leave behind endure. And this is one legacy we need to honor. If we are so distraught by the people we have lost this year, it’s time that we really hear what these people had to say. What did they stand for? What did they believe in? These people are so much more than the work they accomplished. They were people like anybody else, in the public eye, but human. No matter our status in the world, we will all face the same fate. In this instance, metaphorical pedestals fade away, and we can truly understand the soul behind the face. That is how we honor others. We find depth in the obvious. Fisher was Princess Leia, but she did so much more. As did George Michael, much more than a hit singer. He too anonymously and publicly donated his time and money to those in need. He didn’t want or need the recognition. A new single or album released sure doesn’t illustrate that.

It’s something to go and make condolences to those who pass, but it’s something else to appreciate those people and the people we still have for who they truly are. They probably have some interesting things to share, a multifaceted personality longing to be heard in a world that is constantly follow their every move. That is how we reconnect to ourselves, we address those hidden passions and struggles. Especially things that can leave a truly lasting impact.

So let’s pay more attention, to the people around us, the situations we encounter, the stigmatized issues that too often fall beneath the shadows. Not only does it promote mindfulness, but also empathy and awareness. And please, for the love of all that is holy, let us not lose anybody else this year.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Where’s the Faith?

Look at me, watching more TED Talks. But they are very inspiring as to different topics that pique my interest, a new perspective on a issue I might haven’t considered before.

In this case, I’m going back to religion. Any and all religions. A traditional institution that is waning as the world continually seems to be darker, more violent, less hopeful. We fear bringing a future generation into this world.

And as this TED Talk points out, we’ve come to a point in religion where we go through the motions. We lose that actual spirit and faith required to inspire belief, to feel like we have a purpose, something we so desperately need right now. It leads people my age to lose touch with spirituality altogether or choose to forge their own path when they can’t rely on “outdated doctrine.”

In this doctrine is where we find conflict, wars fought and terrorists provoked toward making statements in the name of certain gods and beliefs, something that seems so backward from the practices they should follow. When we narrow our focus on just our own beliefs and don’t deviate much from the norm, the result is that we just get burned out. We see our world changing every day, but the institutions we rely upon to fulfill that need for something higher beyond ourselves stays stagnant. It loses its relevance to our lives and situations. Not necessarily the messages it promotes (or, most of them), but the way of going about it just doesn’t do much.

Admittedly, I have to agree with that mindset. I went to church for the first time a few weeks ago in a very long time. I have always been a very spiritual person, but I have grown to be less “religious.” In this, I mean that I see more flaws in the Bible. I’m more critical of the people who show up to church and order and purpose of going about the service. I think about how too often, people just go to church to keep the facade that they’re faithful, or I see the church pamphlet always having a section about its finances and debts to be paid. Rather than leaving the service feeling peaceful, I leave it questioning myself. Not exactly the best feeling.

But in this TED Talk, we are offered a way to invigorate what is outdated, what doesn’t seem to meld well with the world we live in. It’s less about the rituals we have to follow and more about the people involved. It’s about starting a dialogue that has us actively engaged in our beliefs, communicating with others about current topics and situations and applying religious principles to them. We don’t have to sit back idly and only stand up when we have a song to sing or Gospel to read. We learn how to find mightiness within ourselves to stand up for the core beliefs that got us faithful in the first place.

Right now, as we leave religion, the people being drawn to religion seem to be the ones misusing it. Taking it to the most extreme extent. It’s when we say there is only one way to believe, that everything else is wrong and is ruining the world, we lose sight of spirituality. Religion is not supposed to translate into the human sins of resorting to violence.

This world isn’t perfect by any means, nor will it ever be. We can’t pray away our problems. Reinvigorating religion means that we take action. We take our love and good will and help those in need. And that doesn’t mean we shove ideas down others’ throats. We make an active impact on the suffering surrounding us rather than sitting in a sanctuary, going through the motions. In this instance, actions speak much louder than words.

We cannot rely on outdated systems to help out. It’s our responsibility. I would rather not define religion as the source for chaos. Obviously it isn’t the only one, but the farther we veer from our roots in tradition, the more mistreatment from them occurs. We should not run away from what we disagree with, but face it head-on and change the way we go about it. We open our minds, take down unnecessary steps and barriers, and just talk and listen to each other. 

Faith is not for appearances. It isn’t showing up at church every week, nor is it shooting others in the name of a certain god. Faith uplifts us. It strengthens us. It reminds us of our purpose. And we thus regain hope that despite suffering, there is light.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

A Fresh Glass of…

I’ve gotten behind and confused on which day is which, a typical side effect of being on break for so long. But admittedly, it’s probably one of my better breaks I’ve had. Normally at home, I get ridiculously anxious about having less control over my meals when they are prepared for me and being less active in general.

The main obvious reason for this change in mindset is veganism, knowing that even if I’m indulging a little, it’s all food that is good for me. Except recent news I’ve seen is putting a damper on a transition I and many others are making to benefit themselves and other living organisms.

Sales from this year show that more people are buying nondairy milk, including soy, almond, and everything else (which, surprisingly, there are a ton of different options). This also means that sales for traditional dairy products are lower than usual. This change has the dairy industry fighting back. Even some politicians are calling out the nondairy companies to ask that they rename their products since, by definition, “milk” strictly comes from a cow. If you want the full story, which to me sounds like a classic morning news stint, check it out here.

The fact here is that a label isn’t going to change much. If people want a certain product, they will buy it, whether it’s called “milk” or just a “beverage.” I mean, Pringles cannot be called potato “chips” for the way they are produced, but people still buy them. (Random example, but I remember random facts from watching too much Food Network).

I think it’s great that more people are educating themselves about the many options available and the consequences of their choices. We are starting to see past the overwhelming adds for milk and its “abundance of nutrients” and figuring out what might actually be best.

I could easily go into a rant about how awful the dairy industry is, how the different additives and hormones given to cows makes their by-products addictive, how we’re the only species that drinks the milk from ANOTHER species, let alone one that is completely different from our own (because if we actually want to consume milk from another animal, we might as well take monkeys’ milk, our closest relatives in the animal kingdom). It just doesn’t make sense.

And like any other industry, dairy is a big business. It relies on us as consumers to continue. Its advertisements will never include the actual process going on from farm to carton. Sales would be even lower for them, then. If we want to become a healthier, more sustainable society, these are the changes we have to see. Certain industries will lose out, like dairy and meat and even big oil. This is necessary for us to be able to support ourselves on this planet, to be able to raise the next generation in a world that isn’t worse than it is right now.

When we look at the facts, we also have to look at the big picture here, something that dairy officials and others aren’t doing. They think that the primary reason for greater nondairy sales is the fact it’s also called “milk,” that changing the name will weaken the competition. Sounds like just some dirty capitalistic competition to me.

This isn’t a story that I expect to go away any time soon, either. While nondairy milk has been available for many years and has become much more accessible and actually tasty, I see the same transition for other nondairy products like cheese and yogurt. Those two are still in their infancy with quite limited options and universal acceptance. But give it time, and the dairy industry will probably continue to fight for sales. However, they will never be able to deny the fact that if people make the full change away from cow’s milk, they aren’t coming back. What’s the point? Nondairy milk is cheaper, it lasts longer, it’s healthier, and it just makes sense. There’s a reason why so many people are lactose intolerant and struggle with having dairy: we aren’t supposed to in the first place.

Just think if the rise in nondairy sales leads to higher sales in other plant-based products. Still only one percent of the population is actually vegan, but who knows what the future might bring. Personally, I started drinking soy milk long before I ever knew what veganism is just because it tastes better. But what if others also learned more and made the decision to go plant-based? Okay, I’m dreaming big, but I feel like I have to. Veganism is continually becoming less of an option and more of a necessity. You don’t see that as the headline, but maybe if it was, people might perk up and pay attention.

Even if you don’t even want to consider Meatless Monday, the least you can do is drink nondairy milk because you won’t even taste the difference. It’s a small step that is obviously making a bigger impact than we realize. It will probably help expand nondairy products even more. So rather than a nuisance that dairy officials are making a fuss over addressing the obvious, I see this as something hopeful. A future where we are conscious and mindful.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Which Holiday?

I know for sure I have talked about this specific topic before, probably for a column at my school newspaper. But no matter, I still find it relevant. Especially after seeing a sign for a local business crossing out “Happy Holidays” to proclaim “Merry Christmas.”As if using the former phrase is offensive to Christian values.

Which, first off, most certainly is not. Just because you prefer one over the other, even if it’s not for religiously conscious reasoning, there is nothing wrong with that. You can still celebrate whatever the heck you want. It’s not like someone is about to chop down your Christmas tree or something extreme.

People who aren’t necessarily religious celebrate Christmas, is that also offensive? I think the holiday season should be a time for everyone to observe something, whatever it may be. In my head, I picture the one Blue’s Clues episode where Steve walks by his neighbors’ homes to see the diverse range of holidays they celebrate. Steve himself never necessarily says he celebrates any certain holiday. It’s open-ended so everybody feels welcome.

Since I mainly see conservative people angering themselves over people saying “Happy Holidays,” I feel the same is relevant for the others involved. If someone tells you “Merry Christmas” and you don’t celebrate it, you’re missing the point of using any greeting at all. Don’t criticize them for not knowing or “respecting” your respective holiday, that just two words imply ignorance and disregard for your personal views. Thank the person for the warm wishes and move on. It’s that simple.

I mean, come on, it’s the holiday season. This is a time set aside for good will toward everybody. I think there are bigger problems out there to worry about than a silly greeting. It’s truly the thought that counts. In our daily lives, we can forget sometimes to make the extra effort toward spreading and promoting kindness. While I wish it was a quality we practiced year-round, I always know that this time of year will remind me that people are truly good, despite a year full of misgivings, violence and suffering.

My knowledge of other winter holidays is limited, but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate them and allow others to partake in certain traditions. Who am I to judge? I’m just somebody else celebrating some other holiday. Just because it’s the holiday that consumerism thrives on, that is the predominant one in the country, doesn’t make it any better than the rest.

I grew up learning that America is a melting pot. As I begin to explore the world for myself, I have come to realize that is more of a patchwork quilt (and if you know what episode I’m referring to, then this is a clever tie-in). Other cultures don’t necessarily flow together with the viscosity that we assume. There are still distinct boundaries in place, but when interwoven with others, the end result provides a sense of warmth and comfort.

Honestly, if somebody wishes you peace and comfort, just accept and appreciate it. Sure, we should probably educate ourselves about the other holidays around December, but for this minuscule problem, gratitude will always ring true. It’s much better to say something than nothing at all, especially not knowing the struggles our neighbors might face as the holidays may be very difficult and lonely. “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Holidays” show that we care. We want the best for each other. And that alone might be the best gift of all.

I could get more into the little squabbles involved with the holiday season (heck, the color of Starbucks cups does not matter whatsoever), but I’d rather not dwell on them when it’s such a wonderful time of the year. My personal favorite days of the year are within reach, and when I say I’ve been counting down the days all week, I’m not exaggerating (haven’t you heard of Christmas Eve Eve?). Let us simply put aside our differences, whatever they may be, to come together for some quality spent time with others. If you have any certain traditions, practice them unapologetically. But also don’t assume how others might spend these days. But your warm greetings and wishes are still much appreciated.

Since this is my last post before the weekend, I would like to wish you all a very Happy Holidays. I hope you take the time to slow down to see all of the goodness surrounding you. I don’t plan on missing a beat, but if I do, it’s because I’m giving myself the time to make others a priority, showing my love toward them and spending every moment I can with them. They are the only gifts you need, the ones you can’t put under a tree or stuff in a stocking.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Why 2016 Sucked

Just from my observations, I cannot avoid the fact that people have done their fair share of criticizing and mourning over 2016. What began as hopefully a great year became ugly very quickly. We lost too many treasured souls. We got a new president who should probably stay a reality TV star. Violence continued to wreak havoc across the globe. The thing most of us are celebrating is the fact this year is almost over.

I try to be as optimistic as possible. While I can’t look into the personal lives of every individual, I know for myself that 2016 wasn’t too bad. There was definitely hardship, but those dark moments ended with incredible changes, like becoming vegan, starting this blog, and meeting the love of my life. But when I look at society from the big picture, there is plenty to dwell on that isn’t as positive.

I don’t want to point blame on anybody, but I believe the dissatisfaction with how the year turned out isn’t all in the universe spewing out every horrible thing it can think of and making it reality. There is a certain degree that we can control. Well, to a certain extent.

Admittedly, we lost some important people this year, and that is out of our control. Except we always lose people. Their social status just meant we paid greater attention. But that shouldn’t discount the fact that so many others have already passed. Maybe they weren’t as famous or well-known, their efforts were more subtle, but their lives still mattered. We cannot look back and say this is an unusual phenomenon that never happens. It might be morbid for me to say that yes, everyone dies, it’s the quality of humanity that defines us over nonliving things. Just like we always do, we persevere. We continue living knowing that those we have lost might not be here, but their impacts on this world endure.

Because I have been studying journalism as an undergrad, I have grown to analyze every piece of media I see. So when I see how negative the news has become, the headlines we choose, the obvious bias we have toward devastation because it provokes certain emotions, is injustice. I don’t even like watching or reading the news anymore on traditional platforms, especially broadcast, because if the only good thing we can find today is a short tidbit at the end of the program, there is something wrong here.

Scandal sells. We will show a much wider range of reactions from negative stories than positive ones. The number of updates about some sort of controversy from this year’s presidential candidates alone drove me nuts. This type of news, more grounded in tabloid magazines than anything, is a category in of itself that exploits people to make a quick buck. We lose sight of human behind the headline or magazine cover, seeing them more as characters than people. That is the saddest story of all.

We must also realize that because our society has become increasingly globalized, we now are paying attention to a larger scale prone to negativity. For places less fortunate than us, the suffering is more prominent and visible, and if news outlets are feeding off of that, then they’re in for a feast.

It has come to the point that we either are just waiting for the next bomb to drop, literally and figuratively. We are simultaneously immune to suffering, waiting for it happen. If some sort of devastation doesn’t occur, we’re shocked. I’d rather not admit that social media news has become significantly more uplifting than traditional platforms, especially when we already struggle with deciphering real and fake news. That’s another post for me to rant.

It’s unrealistic of me to attack broadcast news and expect them to change. Instead, I am addressing the individual consumers. Media is a business, and its target audience is us. Our viewership and responses to the news help determine what we’re seeing. If the platforms themselves don’t change, we certainly can. We can put our time and attention toward stories we really care about. We can change our attitudes and learn to analyze what we are seeing. We don’t have to sit idly back and accept what the screen tells us. If the news is saying the world is a negative place full of hardship, let’s do something about that. Let’s instead decide to focus on the everyday kindness we might overlook. Let’s dwell less on negative setbacks and instead actively help those in need.

2016 is almost over. For many, January 1st feels like a fresh start full of resolutions and hope. No matter what next year throws at us, we can overcome it. We can stand strong. We can make the most of what life hands us. Suffering is unavoidable, but how we choose to react can make a world of difference.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Lost Spirit

I am the biggest Christmas person you know. I love Christmas. Everything about it. I mean, if I haven’t talked enough about it, I’m using some of my last chances to do just that.

But rather than going into the magic of the holiday season, I’m talking about the apparent lack of it, for me and many others. Maybe it’s just my normal mindset hitting some lows, or maybe it’s a normal part of growing up and realizing the world is full of people that don’t exactly follow the Code of the Elves.

Either way, it’s hard for me to cope with. All I want is to enjoy something different, to look forward to a day that doesn’t just feel like another day. When I write it out, it might not make sense, but I swear, you’ll know if you understand. I don’t have the same urge to watch Christmas classics or listen to Christmas music even compared to last year. It’s still great, but it’s not as special. I can be forgetful about moving my advent calendar, just an involuntary movement in the daily routine. The decorated Christmas tree always makes the basement feel homier, but it’s just…there.

So how do we make it special again? CAN it be special again? Great question, one I sure have no answer to. I almost feel silly thinking about this as a bigger problem than just my own perception. I realize that is an individual choice for each of us to make as to how we view each particular day, no matter if it’s Christmas or not. In an ideal world, I would choose to truly treat every day like Christmas, but if Christmas doesn’t even feel like itself, then what gives?

I remember when I was little and I felt the spirit of Christmas right down to my very soul, a sense of pure joy and excitement. I still put on the facade that I have maintained this mentality throughout the years, but now it’s not as easy to channel it. Just the fact I have to try so hard to be jolly is discouraging. I want to embody the person who wakes up every December morning ready to bring on some Christmas cheer. It’s an unrealistic desire, but that doesn’t stop me from thinking about it.

As I have pondered about this particularly topic, I have come to the conclusion that Christmas spirit does not simply completely disappear, no matter how much it feels like it. Every year that feels less and less like Christmas is a time of transition toward a new perspective on the holiday season. Obviously with maturity comes experience, going through the Christmas motions a few times. Rather than seeing Christmas as shiny and new, it’s an old friend returning every year. It usually doesn’t change much if you practice yearly traditions, but it’s arrival still means something. The relationship with the friend has changed, but it’s still there.

Christmas spirit doesn’t always have to be in-your-face, loud and proud, lights and decorations and carols. The spirit becomes more subtle, more gentle. Rather than not having to worry about much, Christmas might turn into a stressful time or even lonely for some people. Change is scary, but it’s necessary. It brings about growth and wisdom. Perhaps even from accepting this change will spark a new spirit within you, just as cheerful as before.

I have come to find that Christmas is wonderful not solely for the music and movies (although they are still great), but also the comfort, the time with family, the message of the season. These parts don’t make me jump up and down and run upstairs on Christmas morning, but they bring me peace and remind me that my feelings and attitude start with a choice. I can specifically choose to either embrace these feelings, or wallow in the fact that I just don’t get super excited about things anymore, at least not in the same way as a child would.

Just because the Christmas spirit has changed does not mean I can’t still love Christmas as much as I always do.  Some of my emotional setbacks aren’t exactly in my will to control all the time, but for the times that it is, I am choosing to feel jolly and spread the good tidings that this season brings. The world needs it. Everyday life doesn’t come with the extra traditions and people, which can be a good or bad thing. I just choose to be optimistic. But it truly is up to us to embrace the holidays for what they are, right at this moment. It’s different and unfamiliar territory, but it’s a journey worth taking.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Tune in to Meat

While I didn’t actually have cable TV in college, once I’m back home, when the TV is on, it’s frequently making a visit to the Food Network.

An interesting observation in its recent programming, however, is that it feels very one-note. Very similar shows, very similar food featured throughout in similar formats. It becomes very repetitive, even for those who are avid foodies.

By this, I mean that for prime-time viewers, male hosts dominate. These hosts either show off different foods and restaurants in the United States (Guy Fieri is certainly always on the road), or they include chefs battling it out in some sort of competition. They have literally thought of every possible competition out there. Random foods in a basket, bidding for sabotage, fooling judges on contestants’ culinary experience, facing off with famous TV chefs, baking any dessert imaginable, heck, now they feature all ages, from young kids to grandmas.

While the contestants on these shows are very diverse from all walks of life, the hosts are familiar but tired faces. The only chance to catch a traditional cooking show is in the mornings, where there is no man in sight as the ladies step into their domestic roles to make family meals. I’m certainly simplifying things here, but not too much. The pattern is very obvious, but I’m not just stopping there with gender and racial diversity.

For me, I see another discrepancy, too, and that is with a lack of variety of dietary preferences. The occasional gluten-free baker or vegetarian, but never once have I seen a vegan. Yes, veganism is represented by a mere one percent of the population, but that is still plenty of people.

Not only would some representation help spread awareness of veganism, rather than some foreign concept (that is basically vegetarianism, right?), vegans and nonvegans alike can become more comfortable with what it means to cook vegan. The learning process isn’t exactly easy, but it would certainly be easier if a mass media platform could help out.

I’m not saying it would be a quick change overnight. The vegan movement itself has grown in recent years at remarkable rates, but think of the possibilities of television coverage, reaching a much wider audience. Veganism is still fairly enclosed within its own community, especially in areas where meat and dairy are household staples. Even people interested in becoming vegan, unless they have some sort of knowledge from online resources like Pinterest and blogs, sustaining yourself is very difficult if you don’t know what ingredients you need, what to avoid, and how to prepare the food.

If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s ignorance, making assumptions about lifestyle choices and terms that are unfamiliar, unwillingly opening up to the details. That’s where stereotypes come into play, and it’s even harder for different people to feel welcome and secure. It’s a vicious cycle until people start choosing to learn and understand.

And from greater coverage and awareness, people can realize that vegans are not just a bunch of crazy hippies who eat salad all day. I fit the crazy hippie part, but I can only tolerate one salad at most. Vegans come in all shapes and sizes, a diverse range of people all interested in a common cause. By seemingly annihilating any mention of veganism on Food Network, one might assume veganism either isn’t important enough to mention or too weak to stand against the conventional American diet.

But veganism is still gaining popularity, with vegan specialty foods and restaurants expanding tenfold. The message veganism sends for those willing to listen makes sense. But the way that the movement rooted itself (like a plant, trying to be punny) in new media platforms like blogging and YouTube really limits its demographics to young people. Which, to an extent, if these people are the ones creating the next generation to be more tolerant and sustainable, that’s great. But for others just trying to figure out what veganism is might not feel welcome on those platforms. People not in their twenties or below can see amazing benefits with veganism, if they’re willing to change their ways for a worthy cause, not just for the animals and planet, but for their own health, too.

The day I see a vegan restaurant showcased as the next big diner, or a vegan chef facing it off against Bobby Flay, I will be a happy person. Veganism would seem much less intimidating if there was somebody right on your TV showing you how to make some great recipes, ones every person could enjoy. If people enjoy trying new international cuisine, I don’t see why they wouldn’t consider some easy, plant-based meals. Foodies of any age can then feel more comfortable with using different ingredients and techniques. If you have a recipe that calls for soaked cashews or tofu, you’ll know what to do. Plus, it’s always great to find some new ideas (dessert recipes, please?).

If Food Network’s purpose is to help people find confidence and comfort in the kitchen, it would only seem just to include every single viewer into the mix, no matter their gender, ethnicity or lifestyle. Women can host competition shows. Men can cook sit-down meals for their families. And vegans can make some darn good food.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Another Project?

By the time this post goes public, I will have already finished The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. Heck, knowing how I cruise through books, I’ll be finished with it today and onto something new. The one perk of having so much free time right now is finally having the luxury to dive back into my love for reading.

But that is all beside the point. This particular book has inspired me to just sit down and talk about it. While many of the ideas presented in the book don’t necessarily apply to me (I don’t have or plan on having children, nor am I married yet), but the concept itself of making realistic, accountable resolutions and a set of “commandments” to live by is very interesting.

I don’t know if it would ever be something I dedicate an entire year to, but even just on an everyday basis, having some core standards to be your best self and to find simple ways to bring more joy into your life, it seems like a no-brainer, and yet life gets in the way. Very rarely do we make the direct initiative to change our daily habits into ones surely devoted to making us happier. It’s not exactly practical, depending on the goals you set.

It’s not exactly easy to make decisions that might not be logical or productive all the time. But we need it. You can’t reseasonably accomplish other tasks if you don’t have some sort of foundation to ground yourself in, if you don’t have anything established that guarantees you happiness or peace. We aren’t robots, and we shouldn’t expect ourselves to be.

Even if whatever effort you make is simpler finding more enjoyment in the things you already do, having reminders to

And some habits just aren’t going to stick, but it might require experimentation to find what really works for you. Knowing me, I’ll never be someone who can get excited about playing chess or going to sporting events or engage in large group activities and parties. It’s great for others, but not for me. I have to realize that I am unapologetically myself, and I need to follow and do what I really want. This applies to short-term and long-term decisions alike.

Finding happiness might require some frustration, too. The fact is, humanity universally is looking for happiness. What that definition looks like varies from person to person, but individually, we want to feel peaceful, joyous, and fulfilled. If you’re stuck somewhere that isn’t happening, do something about it. You are in control, and you have the option to make a change that might not make sense to others, but if you have the pull or instinct toward a certain direction, perhaps you might question it, but taking a risk to benefit your life is worth it.

I spent an entire month expressing my gratitude for the big and small things in my life, so I know that I should be happy. But just like Gretchen, if I know that I’m not as happy as I could be, maybe it’s time to do something about it. My happiness might need some antidepressants, but could also use some deeper social or spiritual connections. Maybe I could get back into exercising regularly again. Maybe I could I volunteer for the community more often. Maybe I could just make a greater effort everyday to really examine my moods to see how I can keep myself from getting too low. The possibilities are endless, but only I can choose to take action.

When I look at the upcoming year, I’m sure everyone can agree that it’s time for 2016 to end, but we’re still hesitant about going into 2017. Bad things happen, and that’s unavoidable. How we deal with those things, however, is what truly matters. And if we already have individual ways and motivation to handle anything that life throws at us, we could experience the same exact events we did this year, but from a whole other perspective. Probably still not the best year ever, but will it ever be?

And changing our perspectives on our lives doesn’t require dramatic changes by any means. Little efforts build up into significant efforts. I even look at my blog and how much of a difference it has made in my life, but I didn’t start out with it. At first, I really didn’t have much motivation to do it. But taking some time every so often to write about something I care about has led to a little more than 60 people to receive notifications when I post, I have a solid basis for my senior honor’s thesis, and I can reach out to others in a way I didn’t find possible. Blogging has even inspired me to consider new future opportunities for the future and brought back out my passion for writing. I sure didn’t feel this way on day one, but the effort and positivity and hard work I put into a project or goal like this, it comes back to me.

I’ve tried making New Year’s resolutions for myself before, and I just can’t stick to them, like most people. You set goals for yourself that aren’t realistic, you don’t hold yourself accountable, and you get disappointed and beat yourself up for not doing better. If we really want to make true resolutions for ourselves, we have to keep the ultimate goal in mind: finding happiness. Enduring, genuine happiness.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie


Search for the Cure

Here I am again, relying on TED Talks to learn something new. But let me tell you, when it comes to finding topics to discuss, they give me some great inspiration.

The particular TED Talk that inspired me today is one that just came out recently. In it, the audience learns of a potential cure for mood disorders, or at least an end in sight to what is considered a “mood disorder epidemic,” and I could not agree more. When thinking about mental illness, we don’t necessarily draw direct comparisons to health crises like AIDS or tuberculosis, but with the staggering numbers of people affected, it just makes sense.

Another standpoint I really haven’t thought too much about is the medicine behind “treating” mental illness. With other diseases, when we take medication, we do so in hopes of curing our ailment. If we have an infection, take an antibiotic. If you want to prevent certain diseases from even occurring, receive a vaccine. But mental illness has no cure. The root cause of it has yet to be found, so for now, the only medication available simply calms symptoms. They do nothing to actually stop the illness in its tracks. And for people who suffer from chronic conditions, like me, you have to continually take medications for the entire duration of the disease, which translates to “you have to take this antidepressant every day for the rest of your life if you want any chance at feeling sane.”

If this isn’t aggravating, I don’t know what is. We see so much attention toward “finding the cure” for diseases like cancer and AIDS, but mental illness is a whole other story. Finding a cure doesn’t even feel like a possibility. As if everybody is fine with this status quo and we can continue on for the foreseeable future like this, ignoring the fact that the numbers of diagnoses for mental illness are constantly increasing.

But wait! Maybe a cure is possible. At least that’s what this TED Talk says, through various experiments involving ketamine, an anesthetic used worldwide and a club drug under the persona “Special K.” Research shows that ketamine targets an individual’s resilience to stress, a major factor in mental illness, in this case, depression and PTSD. By avoiding triggering stress, people may be able to avoid symptoms altogether. If stress is a crucial catalyst for experiencing mental illness, I don’t see why other conditions like anxiety and OCD couldn’t also benefit from a drug like a ketamine, which works within hours and lasts for weeks. Even the original SSRI Prozac did not stack up to ketamine’s effects.

So this truly is a possibility. If we figure out the causes of mental illness, rather than treating the side effects, I won’t have to continually talk about mental illness. But I can’t be the only one who cares to get anything done. Obviously medicine is working behind the scenes to put research in motion, but people have to open their minds to the possibilities. Throughout history, we develop different medications with certain intentions, but later discover that their purpose is best served for other patients. That’s just a part of the medical process in my eyes, and mental illness should be no different. To think, if we could be sitting on a “miracle drug” that could save millions of people from suffering, we need to do something, before it’s too late.

As someone who avoids going to the doctor’s office and would much rather rely on holistic medicines, I truly believe in the power of modern science and technology when it comes to health. From starting just a single antidepressant, my life has changed dramatically, but I still wish for something more. I know I’m still constantly depressed and anxious, and while my prescription does a decent job in some aspects, I know I’m still lacking something. If there’s a potential that one day I would not have to swallow down my happiness, that my neurotransmitters fired off as they should, I am hopeful. Maybe overly optimistic, but hopeful.

I plan to continue talking about mental illness until this day comes. Until the medical field fully acknowledges the epidemic mood disorders has truly escalated to. Until I don’t feel scared about admitting my faults in fear that people won’t get it. Until I am hesitant about taking care of my health to avoid unpleasant side effects from drugs that might not even work. Until we won’t lose valuable people to the darkness within their own minds. I know that day will come, and I pray that I can see it.

Disease plagues our world in many various forms. It always has. Some diseases, however, cannot be seen. But they are no less valid than any other. And like any widespread disease, they need universal acknowledgement and support in order to receive the funding and potential of annihilation. A cure is possible. We just have to believe and work toward it.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

A Very Vegan Christmas

Right now, this Christmas season feels like any other. To an extent, the “Christmas magic” isn’t as present as it used to be, but I try to make the best of it. But beyond the Christmas spirit, this is a new experience for me: my first holiday season as a vegan.

Now I’ve talked up and down about how easy it is to improvise and try new recipes so you don’t even think you’re missing out on anything (I mean, how much are you really missing out on?), but I feel like Christmas is tad trickier to tackle.

I already made it through Thanksgiving, which was surprisingly easy because I was never a big fan of Thanksgiving food to begin with, but Christmas is different. When I’m such a huge Christmas person, I grew up with certain traditions and treats and foods to expect that now are out of reach.

I can constantly applaud my family, especially my mom, for being so accommodating and thoughtful when making food for me and understanding my preferences. I couldn’t ask for anything better. I think we can all agree, however, that preparing savory meals is much easier than baking. Baking requires a new set of skills and ingredients to mimic the eggs and milk and butter necessary for virtually every dessert or goody.

I won’t be having any of the goodies that my grandma makes every holiday season, something I’ve already accepted (and didn’t eat much of anyways). And some classic favorites I enjoy, like hot chocolate and puppy chow, have already made the transition to plant-based. The problem here is that many vegan desserts require various different egg substitutes, whether they be products specifically designed to replace eggs, or other foods like apple sauce or bananas that serve different purposes in cakes or cookies.

Living in the town that we do, finding certain ingredients makes the task even harder. Egg substitutes? Probably won’t find them. You’ll be lucky if you find medjool dates or substitutes for dairy products. My all-time favorite Oreo balls? Cookie salad? Not a realistic possibility. Veganism isn’t really something my town knows about, assuming it’s just vegetarianism, so having them actually carry ingredients I’m looking for (especially when they already struggle carrying normal ingredients) is asking a lot of them.

Also, vegan dessert recipes usually aren’t very easy. Cooking is fairly easy as a vegan if you just throw everything together in a pan, heat it up, stick it in the oven, even just in a blender or food processor, it can be very simple. Baking, on the other hand, involves a lot more precise instructions (I have seen way too many that involve soaking and blending cashews, something I have yet to try out). Maybe if I get over how intimidating it might be, I’ll try it out, or find someone who wants to experiment with me when I live somewhere I might find everything I need. But until then, I have to make do.

I’m snacking right now on caramel corn made with vegan butter, a creation somebody probably couldn’t tell the difference between this and the original recipe. Otherwise, I’m on a Pinterest hunt for easy vegan goodies, a priority for someone who cannot finish a day without a sweet treat.

I also have to remember that the holiday season entails much more than just food. In the retrospect of things, it’s a very small component. There’s the music, the classic shows, the family, the atmosphere, everything else that I love and look forward to. While I do enjoy the taste of my favorite Christmas goodies, I think the nostalgia factor plays a huge role in why I enjoy them, too. I’m just in a different, healthier stage of life, and for that, I am extremely grateful. Coming into veganism, I knew I would have to sacrifice some of those foods that I used to love and crave, but it’s so worth it if it improves my outlook on food and health in general. The positive impact my diet makes will also overshadow minuscule desires.

Once I make it through the first holidays, I think every following holiday will just get easier. It’s a new experience for me, and so far I’m doing well. I like trying new things and seeing what works and discovering my next favorite treat. And if this is my biggest concern right now, I think I’m doing just fine. My biggest concern, in all honesty, is being vegan around others who might not understand my choices, choices that only concern me and nobody else. But that’s a whole other issue. No number of recipes can deal with that.

No matter if you’re a vegan yourself this holiday season or will be with a vegan, understanding and an open mindset are key. The holidays won’t be the same as they used to be, but that doesn’t mean you can’t create an atmosphere that is even better, maybe even inspire others to consider veganism themselves. I think trying new plant-based recipes and showing others how wonderful they can be might be the most convincing argument vegans can make.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie