Michael Maley (aka: SIRIS) is a critically acclaimed musician, producer, radio and TV personality. He is best known for his popular Chinese music and his work in the Chinese entertainment industry.
What inspired you to become a vegetarian?
I’ve been a proud vegetarian for over 20 years. For those in the Chinese community who know of my music or have heard me lecture, I’ve shared this story many times to emphasize the importance of considering a vegetarian lifestyle as a doorway to better physical, mental and spiritual health.
I was born and raised in Philadelphia, “The City of Brotherly Love”. When I was 19 years old I made a life changing decision to move to China. Ever since I was a kid, I had a deep love of the Chinese culture. It was Bruce Lee and my love of the martial arts that first got me hooked at an early age.
I started teaching myself Chinese at around 18. I eventually went to Temple University and majored in Chinese. Shortly thereafter I tested and was admitted into Fudan University in Shanghai China.
While going to school at Fudan University, I discovered a great little restaurant down the street from my dorm. I would frequently go there after school with my friends for lunch. Back then you could have a complete meal for 50 cents. I really loved this little place. The setting was modest, like an unfurnished cellar with unfinished cement floors, old wooden tables and benches. For the next 6 months or so, this restaurant became my local hangout. I got to know the boss and his wife. I became friends with the 2 waitresses that worked there, Xiao Fang and Xiao Mei. They were always very kind and willing to sit down with me to help me with my Chinese.
One afternoon, the boss’s wife walked into the restaurant with an adorable white and gray colored dog. I was so happy to see this little guy. I would say he almost looked like a chocolate lab, with a mix of collie, and golden retriever. He was an adorable little mutt, that’s for sure. From the moment I saw him, I was immediately attached to this little guy. Growing up around pets, I naturally loved cats and dogs. Animals always give such pure unconditional love. There’s nothing like it in the world!
For the next 2 weeks I would happily go back to the restaurant each day for lunch. My new little friend was always there to greet me. I would eat and play fetch with him every day; I would often hug him and he would turn his head to kiss me and lick my face. He was full of so much love. Being as far away from home as I was, it was nice to have the company of this adorable new friend each day after school! Sometimes he would sit by my feet as I ate and I would secretly give him food under the table when the boss wasn’t looking. Among all of the foreign students who came to the restaurant, he became sort of a mascot for the restaurant. I really fell in love with him. Although the boss never gave him a name, I suggested we give him one. So I called him “Wangzi” which means “Prince” in Chinese.
After the second week of playing with my new buddy each day after class, my daily routine was firmly in place. I went back to the restaurant one afternoon for lunch, but when I got there, I was surprised to see Prince wasn’t there. I called over to the waitress Xiao Fang and asked her in Chinese: “Xiao Fang, where’s my little buddy, where’s Prince?” Xiao Fang looked unusually disturbed. She walked over to me slowly. The somber look in her eyes spoke a thousand words, and not one of them was I prepared for. She replied: “You don’t know what happened do you”; I nervously asked: “Know what? What happened?” She said: “I feel awful!” At that point I knew something was wrong. My heart sunk as I reluctantly awaited her next words. She continued in a whispered tone: “The boss killed him last night.” I was speechless and stunned beyond belief! In a slow motion moment of utter confusion, I stammered and stuttered, trying to find something useful to say, yet words escaped me in that moment of shock. All I could manage to blurt out was a practically unintelligible: “What?”
Before Xiao Fang could muster up any more energy to explain to me exactly what happened, the boss’s wife clearly overheard our whispered dialogue. She came out from the back, and as if nothing ever happened succinctly proclaimed to the local patrons of the restaurant: “Starting tomorrow, we’ll be serving dog meat on the menu.” With that, I wasn’t just distraught I was disgusted and appalled. I stood up, looked at her straight in the eyes and said to her in a loud and impassioned tone: “How could you do such a thing? You’re disgusting!” She quickly and uncomfortably looked away, then briskly waked to the back room of the restaurant. I sat back down. I remained in shock, staring into space as Xiao Fang explained how the boss killed Prince. Based on Xiao Fang’s account, the boss put a burlap bag over his head and ruthlessly beat him to death. The boss and his wife figured dog meat would be a popular selection in the neighborhood that week; the perfect weekly special. Xiao Fang mentioned the only reason they even brought Prince to the restaurant in the first place was to fatten him up for the kill.
I couldn’t help but think to myself how I must have contributed to his demise every time I fed him scraps under the table. Even though I loved him, I unknowingly contributed to their master plan. I was disgusted and almost puked at the thought. I told Xiao Fang that I was truly saddened, angry and broken hearted. I told her there was no way I could ever return to the restaurant again, so I got up and left. From that day forward, I never ate meat again!
Over 20 years later, I still reflect on this story with the same passion and emotion that I felt on that very day. I stopped eating meat because in that moment I profoundly realized the moral importance of being compassionate. I understood more clearly that all living things are spiritually connected in this universe and we must do everything in our power to preserve life not extinguish it. My life changing experience in China with a little dog named Prince shaped my perspective on life forever. All life is precious and all life should be treated with the utmost dignity, kindness, love and respect. Aside from all of the publicized health benefits of being a vegetarian, most importantly, being a vegetarian is a moral act of universal compassion and love. Out of respect to a little dog named Prince and all of the living creatures of this world, I am extremely proud, humbled, honored and blessed to call myself a vegetarian!
What was your biggest challenge in becoming a vegetarian?
For me there was no real challenge becoming a vegetarian. For me it was a moral decision. The initial challenge was always making sure I prepared a good variety of natural foods to supplement my diet.
How does being a vegetarian go beyond the plate for you?
As I mentioned, being a vegetarian is not just a health decision, it was a moral decision for me. I believe killing animals is wrong. For me, being a vegetarian is an expression of compassion and love for all living things. It’s so much more than just eating to be healthy; it’s a spiritual awakening.
Any advice for people wanting to make the transition to vegetarian?
I understand it’s not easy for everyone to make this transition. My suggestion is to start out slowly. Each month or every few months, slowly eliminate certain meat products from your diet. A slow progression into a vegetarian lifestyle is the best way for most meat-eaters to make this transition. There are many helpful books and a variety of vegetarian recipes online. I highly suggest everyone look into some of these, including the great tips you get right here from Sadhna at www.themasalagirl.com
One of the greatest myths most non-vegetarians have is that we can’t get enough protein from a vegetarian diet. That’s just plain nonsense. I’m 6 feet 5 inches tall and weigh 240 pounds. For over 20 years I haven’t had any problems in this area. As far as health benefits go, you will discover amazing health benefits in a balanced organic vegetarian diet. Human beings were not designed to eat meat. All of our bodily functions begin at the cellular level. The body’s pH balance is also crucial to our overall health. By giving the body the proper nutrients it needs, we can strengthen the immune system, increase our metabolism, invigorate our bodies cellular function and enjoy a healthy disease free life. All it takes is some discipline and few simple adjustments. I highly recommend looking into the videos and books of Charlotte Gerson and Jay Kordich. An organic vegetarian diet, supplemented with organic vegetable and fruit juices is the way to go!
There are way too many to name! I love broccoli, carrots, potatoes and asparagus. Honestly, I love them all!
Your go-to spice:
These days I’m sprinkling a lot of Turmeric on my salads. I love it!
Kitchen tool you can’t live without:
A fork or Chopsticks for eating 🙂
Favorite vegetarian product:
I love organic tofu. There are several non-processed vegetarian imitation meat products from Taiwan that I also enjoy.
Can you share one of your favorite recipes with us?
I’m not much of a cook, so I’ll share a few easy steps for what I consider the perfect lunch:
Buy some fresh organic romaine lettuce, red peppers, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers and spinach. Buy fresh organic “firm” tofu. Remove the water from the tofu packaging and slice into cubes. After you wash your lettuce and spinach, add your sliced red peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers and what ever else you want in there, then toss that big boy salad in a big bowl. Sprinkle your tofu cubes on top and then sprinkle some turmeric on top for added taste. Turmeric is a miracle spice that has so many incredible health benefits. To top it all off, add a nice vinaigrette or low fat dressing of your choice.
In addition to fresh organic salad, I enjoy making full grain brown rice, topping it off with steamed broccoli and tofu and then adding low fat Worcestershire Sauce to the mix. This is one of my favorite “simple” meals to make. As part of every meal, don’t forget about juicing. Organic fruit and vegetable juice is really good for you. My favorite juice in the world is carrot and apple juice. These two super foods together are a powerful mix. The health benefits from juicing are out of this world, so eat and drink up!
Thanks so much Michael for taking the time to be here today!