Annie@SHVC: Hi Ben, where do you come from and how long have you been in Shanghai?
Ben: I spent most of my life in Ohio, but I’ve decided to make Shanghai my home and I’ve been here for almost 2 years.
Annie@SHVC: So are you a vegetarian or vegan?
Ben: I’ve been a vegetarian for about 7 years and I may go vegan eventually, but I’m not there yet.
Annie@SHVC: What exactly turned you into a vegetarian?
Ben: One summer I was spending some time in the Adirondacks in upstate New York and I simply realized that I could never kill an animal myself. I suppose I could if the only other option was starvation, but these days we have so many convenient and healthy food options that there was no reason for me to continue eating animals. I realized that I was effectively telling someone else to do my dirty work and I needed to take responsibility for the reality of my food choices.
This isn’t the case in China necessarily, but in the US most people are very disconnected from their food and are not conscious consumers. So, yes, being a Buddhist I try to show compassion for all living things, but more importantly I just want people to understand and take responsibility for what they eat. If they don’t feel the same compassion for animals, that’s okay, but at least they have awareness and integrity and I can respect that. This approach of conscious consumption would go a long ways to solving our health and environmental issues as well.
Annie@SHVC: Wow so you’re a Buddhist, actually there are a lot of Buddhist themed vegetarian restaurants in town, and I noticed that they don’t cook with garlic, onion, spring onion, leek, chives or eggs, is this specified in a Buddhist diet?
Ben: I suppose it is, but I wouldn’t consider myself a well-educated or dogmatic Buddhist. I just try to apply the fundamental principles of awareness and compassion in every moment. As with any type of label, there are going to be many variations between practitioners of “a” religion.
Annie@SHVC: Ah ok, so this is just special in Asian branch of Buddhism? What about smoking and drinking?
Ben: I’ve never been a smoker because I see no value in it. As for drinking, until recently I would occasionally have one or two drinks with friends, but I recently re-committed to not drinking alcohol or caffeine. (The first time was when I was in France for a year. I don’t know why I chose to do it in the land of wine and coffee.) I can see that some people may gain health and social benefits from moderate wine drinking, but more importantly for me is that I uphold my commitment to awareness by not ingesting anything that would alter my perception. Caffeine and other drugs can temporarily and artificially improve your focus, but if you combine the crash that follows with the long-term side effects the combined effect is negative. A 20-minute daily dose of meditation will provide results that are much more sustainable with none of the side effects.
Annie@SHVC: I love your meditation for caffeine approach! Actually in our latest vegan fitness we also emphasize on having things nourishing rather than stimulating, esp those that only create temporary effect. Hmm, so do you find it difficult to be a vegetarian in Shanghai? I have some friends who gave up being vegetarians after they came to China, I was sad to hear that.
Ben: It’s difficult to be a vegetarian pretty much everywhere in the world with a few exceptions like California, New York and India. It just means that you have to cook for yourself more often to maintain your health and eat salads or pasta when you go out with friends.
Annie@SHVC:Last but not last least, what is your favorite vegetarian dish or restaurant in Shanghai?
Ben: To follow up on the last question, if you’re lucky enough to have vegetarian friends, then it is much easier to maintain your diet, because Shanghai does have some great vegetarian restaurants. My two favorite ones are Anna Maya and Greenology (Dashu Wujie). They are both a little pricey, but that’s only if you compare them to all the other restaurants that serve food with half the quality and nutritional value. So when I go out, I try to do it right with one of these restaurants for their flavorful and consciously-prepared food.
Annie@SHVC: Hi Ben, 请告诉我们你从哪里来，还有你来上海多长时间了？
Ben: 对最后这个问题我多说一点，如果你有和你志同道合持素的朋友，那真是太幸运了，这样你保持素食的饮食方式就更容易一些，上海的确有几家很棒的素食餐厅。我最喜欢的两家是尔苑咖啡厅（Anna Maya） 和大蔬无界（Greenology）。如果你把这两家和其他那些菜品质量不好，营养成分大大折扣的餐厅比，这两家素食餐厅的价格会稍显昂贵。但当我要外出就餐时，还是会选择既这些美味健康又有良知的食物。