The Happy Vegan: A Guide to Living a Long, Healthy, and Successful Life
by Russell Simmons, with Chris Morrow
First published March 10th 2015.
If you spend enough time in vegan online communities, the idea of a "happy vegan" can start to seem like a lost cause. The amount of animosity and aggressive posts from vegans can be shocking for a community supposedly centred around compassion.
Meanwhile out in the physical reality, three-time New York Times best-selling author and mega-successful, hip-hop based entrepreneur Russell Simmons seems to have the antidote.
After going vegan, Russell summarises, "I felt better about my relationship with the world. It’s a relief to disconnect yourself from a system that’s causing harm and suffering. When you cleanse yourself of that negativity, it brightens your whole outlook." (You can scroll down below this review to see more quotes like this.)
But what exactly was Russell doing differently?
As he makes clear, he does a lot of things different. But it's probably not the copious amounts of illicit drugs and rap-star-lifestyle antics that made him the happy vegan he is today. It seems it's something much quieter, something much more universal.
Morning meditation I like better than late night drinking.
- Russell Simmons
As a practising meditator myself for several years now, I was very pleasantly surprised to find him still proclaiming the benefits of meditation - a topic his previous book, Success Through Stillness, was centred around, though this time for it's effects on helping you realise for yourself the truly profound effect of not eating animal products.
In The Happy Vegan, Russell specifically talks about how the daily practice of meditation will assist in your transition to veganism, and finishes the book with a small chapter filled with enough practical tips to get anyone practising immediately.
Simmons is also a big proponent of yoga and is quick to promote it's benefits for your mind and body too, also claiming - and accurately so in my experience - that it too will have nothing but positive effects on your veganism and your life in general.
It's Russells light, positive and realistic perspective that makes The Happy Vegan a fresh and unique read. And that's the real reason I'm recommending it here. The whole book is coated with the specific intention of you becoming a happier person in the process of becoming vegan.
As Russell says in the very first words of this book, "All of my books, at their core, have been about the same thing. How to be happy. In fact, that mission has been apart of everything I've tried to do in my career."
The Happy Vegan is written in a refreshingly relaxed and often humorous tone that allows the pages to fly by easily. While it is clearly aimed at new and aspiring vegans with the intention to convert them, even those firmly established in the lifestyle for years will find it an entertaining and beneficial read.
A quick glance at a number of vegan Facebook groups makes it pretty clear that a lot of vegans are venting their vegan frustrations in unhelpful ways. It's these kinds of more established vegans who - even though they know they are doing the right thing by being vegan - still struggle to find the inner peace they thought going vegan would, and should, give them that I think will get more than most out of reading The Happy Vegan.
Considering Simmons is an African American hip-hop based entrepreneur who loves meditation and yoga, his perspective on veganism is quite unique, and I think that alone makes this book worth reading.
The following rather surprising piece of vegan-advice is given by Simmons early on in the book. “If you’re reading this book, I’m guessing you think I know what I’m talking about—at least a little bit—when it comes to business. You’d probably listen if I told you to invest in a new media company. Or a certain stock. Or a certain type of bond. I have a pretty strong track record with that sort of stuff. So I hope you’ll hear me very clearly when I say spending money on eating right is the single best investment you could possibly make with your money.”
Not bad considering Simmon's business and investing career earned him a net worth of $340 million USD in 2011.
As you'd expect, along with almost two decades combining hip-hip music, business, investing, veganism, meditation and yoga come a very grounded, realistic yet compassionate view of the world.
This is shown better than anywhere else when Simmons suggests how to respond when you see a veg-lover nibbling on some fish at a party. He says “don’t give that moment any weight. You don’t know that person’s situation or their heart." Before recommending that "instead of going out of your way to criticize such people, go out of your way to support them. With love, remind them that the hummus tastes really great. Help remind them that no matter how bad, or how often, they’ve stumbled, the best thing they can do is stay on their path."
This sounds to me like the exact type of compassion that is desperately missing from the vegan community.
4 / 5 stars.
I have included all of my favourite quotes and excerpts from The Happy Vegan below. Don't worry - they won't ruin the book. But they will give you a very good feel for Russells writing style and the general vibe of the book.
PS. If this review in any way made you want to or reminded you to buy this book, we at Vomad would appreciate it if you used one of the links on this page to get your copy. It won't cost you anything extra, but we'll get a small kickback for referring you (usually about 5%).
I recommend getting your print copy from BookDepository.com, as they have the cheapest prices and fastest free worldwide shipping times from their UK warehouse. When I lived in Western Australia I would usually get my books within 5 business days. Click here to buy The Happy Vegan at Book Depository now. However, if you want it in ebook format or you live in the US, I'd suggest clicking here to head over to Amazon.com and get it from there as it'll probably be quicker and cheaper.
Highlights and quotes from The Happy Vegan:
This might sound like a New Age philosophy, but people have been warning against eating animals for thousands of years. The Lord Buddha said, “The eating of meat extinguishes the seed of great compassion.” The Greek philosopher Plato was a vegetarian who noted that the more meat a society eats, the more doctors it needs. Leonardo da Vinci rejected eating meat, as did the great Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy, who wrote, “Flesh eating is simply immoral, as it involves the performance of an act, which is contrary to moral feeling: killing.” Gandhi didn’t eat meat either, telling his followers, “I do feel that spiritual progress does demand at some stage that we should cease to kill our fellow creatures for the satisfaction of our bodily wants.” [page 7]
[After listing other vegan celebrities] Why are all these successful and famous people promoting what seems on the surface to be such a radical lifestyle change? I believe it has to do with a dirty little secret about success and fame: They don’t necessarily make you happy. Sure, playing with toys that accompany success and fame can make you happy for a minute. I won’t lie, it feels great to drive a brand-new Rolls Royce off the lot. But after a few weeks of it, you realize that it’s just a car. That’s when you start asking yourself, “Now what?” It’s the same with new houses, exotic vacations, expensive clothes, even sex. After you experience enough of those things, you’ll find yourself asking, “Now what?” If you’re being honest with yourself, the answer isn’t “more of the same.” That’s because the truth is, the only things that are going to bring lasting happiness to your life are good health and knowledge of self, which lead to a compassionate relationship with the world. That’s it. [page 9]
The terror and pain we inflict on the billions of animals that are born into suffering every year is the worst karmic disaster in the history of the world. [page 11]
A yoga teacher once told me: “A yogi steadily loses the taste for things that don’t taste good,” and I’ve found that to be true. We lose our desires for many things that aren’t good for us: drugs, booze, illicit sex, and drama. But I think it’s especially true of our taste for meat. [page 17]
Most important, I felt better about my relationship with the world. It’s a relief to disconnect yourself from a system that’s causing harm and suffering. When you cleanse yourself of that negativity, it brightens your whole outlook. [page 18]
I’m going to be very real here: As terrible as it is to have a relative or friend thrown in jail over some BS weed charge or to have them beaten up by a dirty cop, odds are the biggest threat looming over your family and friends is their diets. [page 23]
If you ended up replacing all the meat you cooked with vegetables and other plant-based foods, how much do you think you’d save over the course of a year? Studies have shown close to $4,000. Extended to a family of four, you could save roughly $16,000 a year by giving up meat. [page 27]
According to PETA, our government provides the meat and dairy industries with $38 billion in subsidies every single year. By comparison, they give the fruit and vegetable industries only $17 million a year, just 0.04 percent of what they earmark for animal products. [page 28]
In almost every other category, items cost much more today than they did in 1935. Chicken actually costs less. This is because our government is giving massive subsidies to the poultry industry. [page 29]
Please make spending money on healthful food your top priority. There’s no better investment than a diet built on organic vegetables and fruit. If you’re reading this book, I’m guessing you think I know what I’m talking about—at least a little bit—when it comes to business. You’d probably listen if I told you to invest in a new media company. Or a certain stock. Or a certain type of bond. I have a pretty strong track record with that sort of stuff. So I hope you’ll hear me very clearly when I say spending money on eating right is the single best investment you could possibly make with your money. [page 30]
Even folks who are normally progressive thinkers or consider themselves their “own man” or an “independent woman” still feel more comfortable running with the pack when it comes to the food they eat. Even when the pack is about to take them over the edge of a cliff. [page 31]
In truth, that food pyramid was created by businesspeople as much as by doctors or nutritionists. Businesspeople who are happy to push death if it means more money. Just like their buddies in the tobacco industry and prison industrial complex. Our government is pay for play, and these businesspeople are just going to keep on playing—with our lives—until we let them know we’ve had enough and stop buying their products. [page 34]
One of my primary goals in life is to be compassionate. And it’s impossible to be a compassionate person if you eat animal products. [page 40]
Yet despite all that calorie counting, weight watching, and carb cutting, almost 80 percent of people who lose weight on diets end up gaining it back. In a lot of ways, going on a diet is like going on a vacation. Yes, you might go somewhere that looks and feels better, but you usually end up right back where you started. [page 41]
This lifestyle I’m promoting—one centered around a plant-based diet, meditation, and yoga—is designed to lengthen your life. To lengthen animals’ lives. To lengthen Mother Earth’s life. [page 44]
Trust me, your body is not happy when it has animal products rotting away inside of it, and it tries to let you know. It tries to let you know by making you sluggish after you eat a steak. It tries to let you know by making you feel cramped and bloated when you drink cow’s milk. Just like it tries to let you know with a heart attack. [page 45]
They say that learning the guitar is easier if you know the piano first. I believe it’s the same with yoga and meditation and giving up animal products. If you incorporate them into your lifestyle first, removing animal products will be a much smoother transition. [page 50]
Men need to understand that there’s no connection between animal products and physical vitality. [page 54]
We’ve accepted a system where spending your life dependent on pills, or even cutting open your chest, seems like a more practical choice than cutting out animal products from your diet. Think about that. [page 62]
Antibiotics aren’t the only drugs you’re unwittingly eating [in meat] either. Did you know that chickens are fed Prozac? That’s right, a study of commercial chicken meat by Johns Hopkins University found that many of the birds had been given Prozac, in addition to painkillers, antibiotics, and allergy medication. Why Prozac? Because without an antidepressant, they might die from stress. That’s how terrible the conditions they live in are. [page 81]
You’re not just what you eat. You’re what you eat eats too. And as long as you’re eating the meat from animals that are fed antibiotics every day, you’re going to be increasing the chances that you’ve built up a resistance to those drugs. Drugs that could very well one day mean the difference between sickness and health. Or life and death. [page 82]
Despite what you might be told, there is no pill and no procedure that will help you live longer than simply eating a plant-based diet. [page 82]
You could literally not shower for six months and you would save the same amount of water as you would by not buying a pound of beef. [page 96]
A study by the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry found that animals produce 1.37 billion tons of solid animal waste in the United States each year. That’s 130 times more waste than humans produce. [page 97]
A dairy farm with twenty-five thousand cows creates the same amount of poop each year as a city with a population of four hundred thousand people. That means a medium-size dairy farm is creating more poop each year than Miami. [page 97]
I believe that few things slow down your evolution as much as eating the meat of another being every day. It’s nothing short of the biggest karmic disaster in the history of the world! [page 93]
“The United States now has more prison inmates than full-time farmers,” writes Eric Schlosser in Fast Food Nation. [page 107]
[Inside a factory farm, or CAFO] The air is thick with the smell of chicken shit (which eventually turns into ammonia). The only circulation comes from huge fans in the walls. The space is kept dark most of the day in order to save money and to slow down the rate at which the males reach sexual maturity. [page 110]
In 1923, it took 112 days to raise a chicken to reach a slaughter weight of about five pounds. Today, broilers reach the same weight after just 47 days. To help understand just how unnatural a growth spurt that is, a report by the University of Arkansas says the human equivalent would be a human weighing 350 pounds by the time he or she turned two years old. [page 111]
According to the National Chicken Council, an industry group, roughly 180 million chickens are killed “improperly” every year. Since that number comes from an industry that polices itself (chickens aren’t protected under the Humane Methods of Livestock Slaughter Act) one can only imagine what the real number is. [page 113]
In the past, [slaughterhouse] inspectors had to reject any carcasses they saw contaminated by feces. Recently, however, the chicken industry got the USDA to reclassify fecal smears as “cosmetic blemishes” and inspectors are now allowed to let those birds pass. Think about that the next time you bite into some chicken breast. [page 114]
Scott Bronstein, a reporter for the Atlanta Journal Constitution, interviewed hundreds of USDA inspectors about working in a slaughterhouse and afterward reported, “Every week millions of chickens leaking yellow pus, stained by green feces, contaminated by harmful bacteria, or marred by lung and heart infections, cancerous tumors, or skin conditions are shipped for sale to consumers.” But hey, what’s the Super Bowl without chicken wings, right? [page 114]
“Rendering plants” [industry term for slaughter houses] often kill upwards of 1,000 pigs an hour. [page 131]
When shrimpers pull up their nets, 80 to 90 percent of what they’ve caught ends up being bycatch. The result is that for every pound of shrimp that’s caught, twenty-six additional pounds of bycatch are killed in the process. [page 133]
The editors of the Vegan News made the connection in their debut issue back in 1944 when they wrote, “We can see quite plainly that our present civilization is built on the exploitation of the animals, just as past civilizations were built on the exploitations of the slaves, and we believe the spiritual destiny of man is such that in time he will view with abhorrence the idea that men once fed on the products of animals’ bodies.” [page 136]
“If you want to know where you would have stood on slavery before the Civil War, don’t look to where you stand on slavery today. Look to where you stand on animal rights.” —Dr. Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd [page 137]
As Simone likes to say, feeling good about not eating meat once a week is like a slave owner wanting a pat on the back for giving his slaves Mondays off. You might be enlightened for a slave owner, but what’s that really saying? You’re still part of the problem. [page 146]
Instead of going out of your way to criticize such people, go out of your way to support them. With love, remind them that the hummus tastes really great. Help remind them that no matter how bad, or how often, they’ve stumbled, the best thing they can do is stay on their path. [page 149]
Once consumers realize they can enjoy the tastes they’re used to without having to harm animals, it’s going to spell the end of factory farming. Just like horses didn’t have to pull carriages once the car was invented, cows won’t have to give up their bodies for hamburgers once we find the best plant alternative. [page 162]
“Casein, one of the proteins in milk, crosses the blood–brain barrier and becomes something called casomorphins,” says Victoria Moran, the author of Main Street Vegan. “Yes’m, that sounds a lot like morphine—because casomorphin is also an opioid. Nature designed it that way so young mammals would enjoy nursing, come back for more, and live to reproduce themselves.” [page 166]
Don’t get into a fight over food. If people ask questions about your diet, answer them as honestly as you can. If they tease you, throw a joke right back at them. If they try to provoke you into an argument, don’t take the bait. Remember, people who feel threatened by your compassionate choice most likely are dealing with some sort of hurt themselves. Again, try to treat their pain with the same compassion you feel for animals’ pain. Even if you feel like you’re under attack. [page 171]
If you’re curious just how much your doctors receive—in the form of payments, free meals, or trips—from pharmaceutical companies, enter their info at projects.propublica.org/docdollars. What you find might explain why your doctor seems a lot more interested in getting you on a certain medication than on having you change your diet. [page 172]
If you make a commitment to that process and eventually cut all that suffering out of your diet, you’ll feel great. And if you have the courage to stand by that decision, even when other people don’t understand or support it, in short time you will feel content, energized, and, yes, happy—in a way you probably haven’t experienced before. [page 173]
That’s why I called this book The Happy Vegan. Because when you’re committed to not only saving animals and the earth but also saving yourself, happiness is inevitable. [page 174]
Just as there are still plenty of times I’ll see someone eating a chicken wing and think, “Just one bite wouldn’t be so bad.” But I resist that temptation because I know when I contribute to the suffering of another being—even just one bite—it’s going to be at the expense of my happiness. [page 174]
If you learn anything from meditation, let it be that peacefulness and restfulness is actually your natural state. By letting your mind get caught up in the distractions of life, you’ve essentially been asking water to run upstream. Which is why life can often feel like an uphill battle. [page 181]
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