Taking a Vow.

The Los Olivos dining hall at California Polytechnic University at Pomona is fascinating microcosm of the American food system, where in addition to health vegan options you can also find things like this: a bread just labeled "Yellow." Photo by Christopher.

The Los Olivos dining hall at California Polytechnic University at Pomona is fascinating microcosm of the American food system, where in addition to healthy vegan options you can also find things like this: a bread just labeled "Yellow." Photo by Christopher.

I never lived in a dorm. I never had a “meal plan” in college. And as a result I have never experienced or reflected on the daily impact of this process. Until now. In fact, the closest I ever came to eating food in a college dining hall was when I downed a small carton of chocolate soymilk at the University of San Francisco cafeteria nearly a decade ago. However, for the past week I have been lucky enough to eat at Los Olivos, the mess hall at California State Polytechnic University at Pomona.

As a fellow of the Ahimsa Center, which focuses on the practice and study of nonviolence, as a part of the College of Letters, Arts & Social Sciences, I have been well fed three times a day. During this experience I have found that the lessons learned during the dollar diet project, and during our most recent experiments in eating have significantly changed my habits. I find myself asking for smaller portions from the food service staff, making choices based on nutrition guidance from the USDA, and avoiding foods high in fats and sugars.

But in my suite, away from the brightly lit space, and public accountability of the college cafeteria, a package of Oreo cookies occupied a small piece of real estate on our kitchen counter. Yet the space these cookies occupied in my mind was far lager. I avoided them for the first couple of days. I felt that our study of Gandhi was a good reminder about the need for self-restraint. Yet the conversations late into the night gave way to deeper urges, and by one in the morning I was picking the chocolatey goodness from my teeth.

During the following day’s lecture we briefly discussed the notion of “vows.” So today I have decided to take a vow to no longer eat prepackaged cookies. I feel comfortable with this little step, and find that this will keep my sweet tooth on a leash in a simple but practical way. I will limit my sweet eating to specially home baked treats from family and friends, and rare outings at restaurants. It will be like taking my sweet tooth out for a walk every now and again instead of letting it roam the neighborhood.

I will replace this urge with healthier options like strawberries, melon, and grapes in the dining hall while I remain at Cal Poly. These succulent options have been readily available, as have decent vegan options at each meal. According to Dr. Tara Sethia, founder of the Ahimsa Center at the University, this is one of the things she has spent the last few years developing. Her commitment to nonviolence extends beyond the classroom and the study of Gandhi, and into the cafeteria where all students have the option to practice nonviolence (at least in eating).

Every day there has been a delicious nonviolent option, from curry to chili, and yesterday the grilled teriyaki tofu, steamed vegetables, and rice more than satisfied. The salad bars also stand in the center of the dining hall as a testament to student’s interest in leafy greens.

However, the standard fare is far from diverse: corn dogs, burgers, pizza, rows of sugary cereal dispensers, and liquid sugar flowing freely from soda taps. This contrast is a good representation of the current food system in the United States. Where healthier, more sustainable options are available if you make a concerted effort to find them among the faster foods. This is where Gandhian self-restraint comes into play. In my case with the Oreo’s, it may take something like a vow to eat better.

– Christopher

P.S. I am doing a new mini-blog during my stay at the Ahimsa Center. It’s called “Going Gandhi” and will document some of my experiments in truth as related to my study of nonviolence.

PPS. Speaking of sugar…Kerri’s sister has started a cake blog here. Her stuff is artful and tasty, so check it out.

3 Comments

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3 responses to “Taking a Vow.

  1. nonegiven

    What’s “non-violent” about chili & tofu? That’s a myth.

    Mono-cropping with conventional and even organic agricultural practices is anything but non-violent in industrial-scale agriculture. The soil is ripped apart rendering it infertile without application of additives; pesticides kill in massive quantities; tilling for row crops displaces burrowing creatures; habitats are lost for numerous species large & small; harvesting equipment (giant combine harvesters) routinely maim and kill animals even as large as rabbits, foxes, & deer.

    As so few people actually work in food production anymore, most have no absolutely idea how their food is produced, whether the food is from animal or plant origin. There is nothing inherently non-violent about modern industrial food production. It’s unsustainable and has great potential for violence to creatures whether it is a CAFO or a huge organic lettuce field in CA’s Central Valley. It is impossible to live on earth without affecting lives of other creatures.

  2. Social Justice Teacher

    I definitely understand the problems that you so thoughtfully address in your comment, and you’re right that the system is in need of serious changes. However, on an actual pain-felt, emotional distress, terror level, there is a huge difference between the monoculture practice for growing produce and slaughtering animals. First in terms of the actual numbers of animals killed: 10 billion land animals, and 27 billion animals total just for the United States. Exponentially more animals are tortured and killed for their flesh than as a byproduct of non-animal agriculture. Additionally, even if you’re referring to something as “non-violent” (as in the absence of actual violence), which is still far less when you eat a vegetarian meal (in terms of the number of animals) then we are still not talking about the same thing.

    I used the term “nonviolence” without the hyphen, as in a practicable resistance in the face of brute force, as in Gandhian nonviolence; not just being “non-violent” which is different. In this case I am referring specifically to an active resistance to animal agribusiness. I hope this clarifies what I meant in the post.

    Warmly,
    Christopher

  3. This was a really great read, I am very glad I came across your site.

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