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Rise Up, Vegan Republicans!

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Rise Up, Vegan Republicans!

Cultural anecdote one: Talk show host Sean Hannity says no real conservative would ever wear sandals or flip flops. Conservatives can wear boat shoes or sneakers, but not sandals or flip flops.

Cultural anecdote two: "You can be a Republican who eats a vegan diet, but you can't be a vegan and a Republican. Vegans value the sanctity of life, which is in conflict with Republican values." So said a poster named Bart on vegsource.com. Bart was adding to his thread called "vegan ideas and info are a threat to corporations, hence a threat to the GOP, hence Bush allows spying on vegans."

I hadn't noticed spy cams at my local Whole Foods in Los Altos, Calif., so I will be sure to glance up next time I'm inspecting the arugula. President Bush's successor, we know, is both pro-arugula and pro-Patriot act. Surely that conflict is cleaving President Obama's very soul. Bart could be right; the spy cams might still be up there.

Confession: I'm a Republican flip flop wearer (Hawaiian Pros) who has morphed into an (almost) vegan. I'll tell you why I'm doing it and what I have learned. If you don't mind a Republican bloviating in your polite company, I'll also make a few speculations on how the tribalism cited above is actually destroying America. The opposite impulse, fusion thinking, will be our salvation.

My own (almost) vegan conversion: Last year I turned 55 and hated the way I looked and felt. Some joker kept doctoring my photos by adding a double chin. No one who looked at the 185 pounds I carried on my six-foot frame would have called me fat, but I was 30 pounds over my college weight and 20 pounds over my marriage weight. My lean body mass index showed more blubber than those 185 pounds suggested. My blood pressure at 130/92 was borderline high.

So in March 2009 I bought a cheap commuter bike and started doing 10-mile rides. By May I was up to 20 mile rides. At that point I took the plunge and bought a serious road bike--a Trek Madone 5.2, a slightly cheaper variant of the 6.9 model used by Lance Armstrong. By July I was doing 30-40 mile rides and by August I was doing them hard, maintaining 18-19 miles per hour on the flat parts. In October I entered my first race, an uphill time trial -- and did well.

The biking shed ten pounds but my blood pressure remained the same - borderline high. The next seven pounds and a drop to a 112/82 blood pressure came from a switch to a plant-rich diet.

Over the summer my at-home diet began to look like this:

BREAKFAST

Smoothie made of non-sweetened soy milk, berries, soy protein power and bananas. I also eat a high-grain, non-sweetened cereal, such as Ezekiel's Golden Flax.

LUNCH

Salad of brown rice, baby spinach leaves, edamame, beets, sliced almonds and a splash of balsamic vinegar.

DINNER

Here is where I abandon a purely vegan diet and enjoy whatever food my wife and I decide to cook. Usually it's a variant of some Mediterranean dish. We've learned to enjoy smaller portions of meat and bigger heapings of vegetables on top of noodles made of spinach or wheat.

On the road -- and I travel 200,000 miles a year -- I always take some Ezekiel Golden Flax cereal, sliced almonds and apples. It's not easy to eat vegan on the road in America but I'm not trying to be a pure vegan. Mostly vegan will do.

At this point, any vegan who equates diet with tribe is likely to scream: Mostly vegan will do? Blogger Bart above won't permit Republican vegans. I can only imagine what Bart and his Tofu Torquemadas must think of flesh-eating Republicans sneaking around on the veggie DL. Get back to your Cattlemen's Steakhouse Hells, you Neanderthals.

The prejudice runs both ways. Viewed from the other side of the cultural divide, a vegan diet strikes many American men, and especially conservative men, as repellent or even unpatriotic. The mental picture of a "vegan" might be that of an eco-hippie or a PETA purist who eschews deodorant as well as meat.

My modest idea is that earthly salvation lies in transcending these tribal divides that seem silly but are deeply dehumanizing and counterproductive. We need more Republicans who shop in vegan food stores just as we need more San Francisco evangelical Christians like David Batstone whose campaign, Not For Sale, rescues girls from the slave sex trade. We need more companies like UPS and Southwest Airlines that have learned to thrive in a global economy while paying decent wages to their union employees. We desperately need a new generation of countercultural entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs, Anita Roddick and Yvon Chouinard to redeem capitalism.

These examples aren't timid compromises that settle for a washed-out pragmatism. They are bold fusions in search of a fun and prosperous future. Rise up, you vegan Republicans, you San Francisco evangelicals, you hippie entrepreneurs!