Sunday, April 1, 2012

Veganism is my 401(k)

Annette's garden carrots, Glover Park,
Washington, DC. When did the word
"dirty" become disparaging, anyway?
In her recent Veganism Is My Health Insurance essay, Miami New Times blogger Camille Lamb relates how she's  plugging her current gap in health insurance with self-reliant actions like a plant-based diet and regular exercise.

While I do carry very basic, high-deductible health insurance for catastrophic injury or illness, I've found that diet, exercise, a lively social life, and a positive attitude have helped me avoid (and even overcome) minor maladies. And Ms. Lamb's thoughts inspired me to think of four ways our veganism is even more important, guaranteed, and secure than a 401(k).

1. We have control over our bodies.
In fact, we have just as much control over ourselves as we lack control over the future of the stock market or Social Security.

Whenever one of my favorite vegan friends gets sad, she either eats something healthy or exercises, and she's found the improvement in her mood to be immediate. Since first reading Harvey Diamond's Fit For Life books in the early 1990s, I've found that those same two activities help avoid or alleviate most physical aches and minor illnesses, as well—and plenty of older folks tell me that this only gets more true as we age.

So yes, save a catastrophic illness or injury, eating and exercising should always be great ways to keep ourselves well—emotionally and physically—without doctors, hopstials, or medications. (As an aside, one of my favorite writers, James Howard Kunstler, recently described how he's renouncing the medical establishment. Ironically, he did so at the same time he renounced his "90% vegan" diet.)

2. I don't want to ever stop working.
Well, not fully, anyway. Like my Dad and my girlfriend's Dad, I plan to always be doing something I love, at least part-time. And because my physical needs will be minimal, it won't even have to necessarily be well-paid. So spending a few hours a week helping others with their needs, and/or playing a regular weekly music gig, and/or writing or editing stuff for a community or cause I care about, will keep me connected to society, not to mention happy, healthy, and providing for my simple needs.

3. 401(k)s and Social Security might be a gamble.
I've been paying into both systems since I began working over 20 years ago—and thankfully, I've never needed to tap into a social safety net of any kind—but we can't be 100% certain that they'll exist in their current form when we're in our 60s, 70s, or beyond.

Instead of griping about this possible reality, I'm instead choosing to prepare for retirement by investing in myself—to continually focus on and improve my diet; to exercise more often (and more intelligently); to practice regular positive thinking and writing to overcome depressed moods; to maintain a rich, diverse network of friends, of men and women of all ages; and to continue eliminating physical needs. (Over the past winter, I've reduced my most necessary possessions to fit into/onto two bookcases, two drawers, one rack, one shelf, one wall, and one bag.)

4.  Organic gardening helps make it all possible.
Fresh produce gives us most of what we need, cultivating it feeds our soul, and the practice connects us spiritually to everyone else who's alive, everyone who came before us, and everyone who will follow us. It's also something all of us can do, at every stage in life. Especially when we're not working too much.

What are some other ways/reasons our veganism can become the most important component of our "retirement portfolio"?