Radical Geek of the Week: Cassidy Ward

Are you a Radical Geek of the Week? Do you geek out but also have a radical side? Then you are who I’m looking for. If you’d like to set up an interview, email me at radicalgeekery@gmail.com.

The very first interview in this series is a special one, with a new (but old) friend of mine. Cassidy and I went to high school together but didn’t talk or hang out. It wasn’t until our 1o-year high school reunion was announced earlier this year on Facebook (OMG, are we that old?!) that we really started talking. It was at that time that we realized how much in common that we had and that we were both total nerds. Read on to hear about Cassidy’s radical journey with food (the theme of the year) and his favorite fandoms.

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Tell me about your journey to being vegetarian? What prompted it and how long ago did you start?

Cutting meat out of my diet is something I had been thinking about since I was very young. My first attempt was in the third grade and I recall it lasting about two weeks. Taking command of dietary changes is difficult at that age and not being the person buying the food, my Peanut Butter and Jelly lost it’s luster after a couple weeks.

I had a couple of very close friends throughout high school who were vegetarian and that is what got me thinking about it again. There isn’t a single isolated incident that caused the change, but several things that were going on at that time in my life that heavily contributed. Not the least of which was losing my faith. Life with God is easy in some aspects, all of the thinking is done for you. Losing that caused me to begin thinking for myself, questioning my actions and the choices I make.

Like many vegetarians and vegans I came across some video footage of factory farms that were incredibly compelling. I’ve always considered myself a compassionate person and knowing that my meal choices were contributing directly to that kind of torture and violence was something that didn’t sit well with me. At that point I began to reduce my intake, but like many people I had this idea that it was “impossible” to live without meat or that I simply didn’t have the will power to pull it off…boy was I wrong.

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Because of the changes in my thought process I began to pay more attention and surround myself with a different class of people, many of whom were vegetarian. Having a support group always help and seeing what vegetarians actually ate made it much less intimidating. I saw that it really wasn’t so different from the way I was already eating.

In January of 2006 I finally took the plunge. It just happened one day. I was actually at Denny’s and had ordered a ham and cheese omelet. After another in a series of discussions on the topic, I looked at my meal and said that’s it, this is my last portion of meat.

Of course, like any newbie, I slipped in the early days. Once, by accident and habit I heated up one of those chicken breasts stuffed with broccoli and cheese and got about halfway through it when I realized what I was eating. The second time was about a month in when I had lost a considerable amount of weight and got scared, I had a cheeseburger and immediately regretted it. I only mention this for anyone considering the change, you may slip in the beginning, but it doesn’t mean you have to give up, it’s natural. Change takes time to take root

My decision was originally one purely of compassion. I figured that if I can thrive without consuming other animals, then their suffering becomes unnecessary, if that’s the case it can’t be justified. Now after years of research I firmly believe a plant based diet is the only rational, logical choice. After all, Spock and all Vulcans are vegetarians.

At this point it’s been over seven years and I couldn’t be happier with the decision.

I know recently that you told me that you started being a Vegan, why did you take the plunge from vegetarian to Vegan?

This really happened for many of the same reasons as my original switch to a vegetarian diet, only it was reinforced by years of research and a mentality change. I had originally thought vegans to be an extreme version of vegetarian and the fears I originally had concerning will power existed ten-fold when concerning dairy. I love cheese, milk, ice cream, sour cream, cream cheese, etc., and it seemed impossible. Again, I found myself quite wrong.

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We have the luxury today in our society of having a plant based substitute for literally anything you might want to eat. I had vegan breaded shrimp a little while ago and I couldn’t tell the difference.

I had never really considered being a vegan because I thought, eggs and milk are just bi-products nothing is killed in this process right? So there’s no moral or ethical problem with their consumption. Further research into farming practices revealed this to be inaccurate. Without going into too much detail, the egg industry packs chickens in pens so tight they can hardly move and this causes them to want to fight among themselves.

In an attempt to prevent them from killing one another thus halting production their beaks are seared off with a hot knife. A portion of eggs are hatched in order to replenish chickens that die or are sent to slaughter. If the hatched chicks are male they are worthless to an egg farmer and are immediately killed most often by being thrown alive into a meat grinder.

Dairy farms have no better conditions, the female cows are hooked up to automatic milkers for upwards of 70% of their day, as you may know, mammals don’t produce milk all of the time, so in order to keep the cows producing they are impregnated yearly and the babies are taken from their mothers almost immediately and killed for veal. So while eating eggs and dairy may seem to be victimless acts it turns out that is far from the truth.

I’ll be honest in saying that I wasn’t able to make the switch immediately even knowing this information, I tried but failed. A vegan diet done incorrectly can be very difficult. However, I tried again with some new knowledge and have been entirely successful. I don’t miss eating meat, dairy or eggs at all. As of today I’m 130+ days being a vegan and not looking back.

If I were to wrap this all up in a thesis I would say human beings unlike other animals have a tendency to cast off our “natural” lifestyle. If you look throughout history you will see a slow but very real move toward a more compassionate lifestyle, as we move forward we bestow more rights on divergent groups. This is the crux of human morality. As we now, especially in the first world, don’t need meat or animal products in order to live a healthy life, the suffering of these animals cannot be justified. In addition scientific study has revealed that a balanced vegan diet is the healthiest known diet significantly reducing the threat of many major health concerns. The UN recently also stated their recommendation toward a voluntary reduction in meat consumption because of the environmental impacts. It takes roughly 13 pounds of grain and 2500 gallons of water to produce a pound of beef. Livestock are also one of the largest contributors to pollution, green house gases, and water contamination via waste runoff. Given the very real concerns surrounding climate change and the estimated fifteen million children that die each year of hunger. It seems the jury is in, a vegan diet is what’s right not only for non-human animals, but for you, for everyone else, and for the environment.

What advice to you have to those wishing to pursue being vegans/vegetarians?

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There are so many resources at your disposal, arm yourself with knowledge. Find people who have made the change successfully, have them point you in the right direction. Take a moment to think about the foods you really love, the things you think might trip you up, then find your favorite substitute for them. Finding a good non-dairy cheese was central to my success.

Be realistic, realize that a burger may never taste exactly the same as you remember but also remember that there are a world of foods out there that you’ve never tried. The odds that you’ve found your favorites in the small grouping you’re used to is slim.

If you slip, don’t beat yourself up. Rather than

focus on the one cheeseburger you ate, consider the thirty that you didn’t. Then move forward. I promise you the weight off your shoulders is worth it’s weight in beef!

I know you are a huge geek like me. Where do your geekdoms lie? Are you a TV show/movie/comic book fan?

My answer is yes.

I’m a story teller myself, so I enjoy stories regardless of medium. If I had to choose one it would be comic books, but please don’t make me choose! I’ve got something like 600 issues of comics at home on my shelf. Yes, I have a shelf for my comics. I don’t keep them in boxes, I like to look at them, they’re pretty.

I’ve long been a Star Trek fan, it seems the ideal world to me. One where science and discovery are valued above everything else. Where war is a dirty thing of the past.

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“The acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force in our lives. We work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity.” Capt. Jean-Luc Picard

I think in terms of philosophy I will always fall at the alter of Trek. Lately however I’ve been sucked in by Doctor Who, I love that mad man with a box.
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If I were to answer this question based solely on numb

er of comic book issues Spiderman and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles stands far above the rest, bordering on unhealthy obsession.

TMNT is a my oldest love. My oldest memories of watching the cartoons as a child and some of my most cherished memories involve reading the comics, playing the games and sometimes dressing up with two of my best friends as our favorite turtles.

I’m also a collector, before comic books it was Pez dispensers, there’s something about the thrill of the hunt!

If it involves space, or super heroes, or horror I’m game.

What’s your favorite fandom? 

My favorite fandom… that’s tough. If I HAD to choose one, I might go with Star Trek, purely out of amount of content, between the now 12 movies and numerous series there’s no lack of stories to be had.

If you had to be stuck on a deserted island with only one one person (from fandom) and one vegan recipe what would it be?

I think I’d go with Data from the Next Generation crew. I imagine there would be no end to the conversations, both scientific and phil

osophical. Plus I’d have something to offer him, the human perspective. Additionally, if anyone could help me build a raft.
As for one vegan recipe, it would probably be my savory crepes. I could eat them every day! You essentially take pancake batter, normal Bisquick (which is vegan) and add soy milk or water. Put it on my griddle or pan and spin it out so it’s thin, once it’s cooked on one side flip it and start adding your toppings. I generally add Daiya non-dairy cheese (eitherMozzarella or Pepper Jack) and it is the best! I need like three of them, it’s my death row meal for sure.

Which cons are you attending this year?

We are attending the San Diego Comic-Con in July. We got the four day pass plus preview night, and the best part? It starts on my birthday! I’m so ridiculously excited. I’m working on my costumes now. So far I’ve decided on Rorschach, Doctor Who, and probably even Spiderman.

Thank you Cassidy so much for the interview. I really had fun reading through your responses and hope you and your family have fun at Comic Con this summer. -Becca

Enjoy this interview with Cassidy? Go follow him and his adorable family on their blog Our Vegan Family, and their twitter handles, @MissVeganKylie and @CassidyWard

P.S. Cassidy is an author and I’d love for you to check out his books Diary of a Dead Man and Elsewhere: Bones and Thorns.

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