I'm often asked (offscreen) why I'm vegan, so I thought it was time to write a post about it. This will be the first post officially tagged #crueltyfree. And because it's not just about diet, but about living on this earth with more kindness and compassion for all sentient beings, I'm going to be exploring and sharing cruelty-free design, lifestyle, and beauty along with recipes and other food-related bits. (Like sugar - did you know that non-organic white sugar is processed with bone char to make it white? )
Becoming vegan didn't happen for me overnight. It's been a 20 plus year journey. I didn't wake up one day and go from eating hamburgers to slurping down kale smoothies (I still don't like kale smoothies, by the way.) So, this is not in any way meant to be preachy and shaming. But I wish I knew then what I know now. And hopefully, by shedding some light on things that I have learned over the years (and I'm still learning, because we never stop learning), I can help spread a little more kindness and compassion in this world. But we have to start with ourselves. So let's all be kind and compassionate to our own souls first, ok?
My vegan journey began in college. I stopped eating beef and pork because my boyfriend at the time did. I was kind of mindless about it. Like, ok...you're not eating it? I won't eat it either. I can remember the last (cow) hamburger I ate. I was sitting on my kitchen counter and stuffing this greasy, juicy blob into my mouth that I had taken home (in styrofoam, no less) from the restaurant where I worked. I can't remember the last piece of bacon I ate, but I stopped eating pork at the same time, too.
I would get some comments about being weird. But since I was still eating poultry, fish, dairy and eggs, I wasn't labeled as too much of a freak. People would ask me why I didn't eat beef and pork and I just said I felt better. Lighter, I would tell people. And I did. At that point, it really did feel like a health decision. A selfish change, with unselfish consequences.
I really didn't miss the taste or the texture of cow and pig. And never felt like I was missing out on the joy of eating. But I was still eating many animal-derived foods. Somehow, chicken and fish felt "different". Like less of an animal. And dairy and eggs? Well, that was ok. That didn't hurt anyone. I had yet to really think about the origin of meat and other animal-derived foods. Yes, of course, I knew I was eating animals, but ethically, I still hadn't made the Big Connection.
A few years later, I stopped eating poultry. Again, it was more for a "health" reason than anything else. I had broken up with a boyfriend, and one day declared to myself "No More Chicken." (I'm not 100% sure why that correlated in my mind. I'll save that for my next therapy session.)
Again, I had this feeling of just being lighter. Not so weighed down by food. And I was starting to feel for the animals. I was starting to tell people, when they asked why I didn't eat meat, that I "did it for the animals". Not quite the Big Connection, but a connection, nonetheless.
For many years, I continued to eat fish, eggs and dairy - though not much dairy, because I was lactose intolerant, I found, after getting terrible stomach aches every time I ate cream cheese on Bagel Mondays at work. I started taking Lactaid to help me digest dairy. Now, it seems so absurd. If my body doesn't respond well to a food, there must be a reason, right?
It wasn't until several years ago that I stopped eating animal products alltogether. My dad was diagnosed with esophageal cancer, and I thought "This is the ONLY body I have. The only one. I will not get another one in this lifetime, so I better treat this one as good as I can."
I vowed to cut out all animal products from my diet. And eat healthy, healthy, healthy. Meaning, lots of plants.
It wasn't so much about the animals. At first. But this is when I started to learn about the horrors of the animal agriculture industry. If there was ANY bit of me that might have thought about eating animal products from a health perspective, the information I started to expose myself to was putting an end to me eating animals forever.
How could I play a role in this suffering? How could I support this?
I couldn't. I can't. I don't want any animal to suffer because of what I choose to eat.
And I also don't want an animal to suffer for the clothes I wear, the makeup I put on my face, the hair products I use, and anything I bring into my home. So I gradually stopped buying leather, wool, feathers, beauty products and household items tested on animals, and anything else I discovered/am discovering uses animals in any way, shape or form. It may seem extreme to some people, but honestly - isn't it more extreme to kill and abuse living creatures for a cute pair of shoes or a ham sandwich?
You may not agree with me. I get it. There are a lot of arguments out there supporting the "use" of animals for food, fashion, and entertainment. I've heard most of them, but to me, it still comes down to this: I want to live kindly and compassionately and step gently in this beautiful world, and I can't do that if I am contributing to the death and abuse of sentient beings.
I love animals. I don't want them to die for me. They have a right to live as much as I do. I believe we are all connected. And the death of even one animal has a ripple effect through our own spirits. Maybe this is a little woo-woo for some, but this is what I truly believe. This, to me, is the Big Connection.
Is being vegan hard? Sometimes, but not really. It's not hard to stay firm in my decision to be vegan, but it can be challenging at times to find your way through a mostly non-vegan world. Finding non-leather shoes, belts and purses isn't super easy. Finding an area rug that isn't made from wool is a BIG challenge. Finding a pillow that isn't filled with down can be hard, too. Also, being told that you aren't getting enough protein can be tiring (ugh, really? We're still talking about this?)
But surprisingly, eating a vegan diet is pretty easy. And delicious. I've learned about so many "new" ingredients (hello, tempeh!) and new ways to prepare "old" ingredients (cashew cream and walnut tacos? Yes, please!) that I feel so excited about cooking again. The vegan food business is booming, too, so there's certainly no shortage of yummy cruelty-free treats.
The hardest part of being vegan, I think, is the self-examination and self-awareness that has to happen. And the questioning of what we've been taught our whole lives is "normal". We have to be willing to look at the ugliest parts of humanity - this is very hard - and admit that we, ourselves, have played and are playing a role in animal abuse. The hardest part being willing to see the truth.
I still have a hard time learning the truth. It's hard to take in. And, some of the ways animals are treated are so horrific, we don't even want to believe it's happening. It's pretty easy to turn the other way. But it is a choice that we have. We have a choice. The animals don't, but WE do.
And I choose to be vegan.
I know that going vegan may seem overwhelming. I know it can seem extreme. When I was vegetarian, I once referred to myself as "not one of those crazy vegans". And now here I am - one of those crazy vegans. I wear this badge proudly now. For me, there's no going back.