My veganism happened to me. It wasn’t something I aspired to, or something I did “to be a better person”. Because I didn’t think I could do it. I guess I thought people who were vegan were tough sunovabitches who didn’t need food to comfort them, to fill them up, the way I did.
I believed if I became vegan, I would be hungry all the time.
But wait, let me go back:
The first time I tried veganism I was thirteen. I was off to a YMCA camp, and there was little there for me to eat. I didn’t know how to advocate for myself, either. I ate plain bagels and applesauce and felt hungry and pinched and sorrowful about it all. I felt anger at all the people there who just didn’t give a shit. I was tired and grouchy.
I got home from camp, and I remember a lot of green salads and french fries at restaurants. I think I went without animal products about six months, that time around. No slouch there, I mean. Many thousands’ gallons water, hundreds of lives spared. But I didn’t feel supported, understood. I felt alone. It couldn’t last.
In the twenty-plus years since I’ve flirted with veganism and vegetarianism more than once. It was inspiring for a bit, then would come to seem impossible. An uphill battle.
But something changed earlier this year. I had finally settled into vegetarianism in earnest, and with a bit of joy. Meat had come to taste like death, like a corpse. I could leave it behind, finally. Eggs were no trouble. They’ve always been a bit repellant to me, and that conviction had been growing.
And then, early this year, I came to know I’d soon be saying goodbye to dairy. No one has loved cheese more than I. Let me tell you!
Yet, I was seeing deeply that behind any animal product, no matter how much we don’t want to look, and how much we insist we “try” to buy “humane” meat or eggs or milk, there were things happening that no human being could feel okay with. I started to know the math wasn’t right. Backyard chickens – we used to house some, remember? Well, where did all the boy chicks go, when you order your chicks from the feed store? Nowhere nice, as a very haunting video demonstrated. A two-and-a-half second video that to this day, I wish I hadn’t seen.
Where did roosters go? Did they have a quality of life? Are hens supposed to lay as many eggs as we’ve bred them for? Do they enjoy safety and longevity? Are the many health and predation issues they suffer, just “part of life”? Or is there another solution?
What about all those calves? Do they miss their mothers? Where do they go? They are slaughtered and turned to veal. The dairy industry is the meat industry. Cows cry, bellow, and feel pain. Mothers search for their babies for weeks after they are torn away.
I knew this.
And I couldn’t even stand to watch videos that answered any of these questions. I still haven’t viewed the phenomenal and award-winning documentary Earthlings; I saw less than a minute of footage and had nightmares for two days.
But it was a conversation, two in a row in fact, that lit the lamp of awareness. I had started to explore the cruelty of eggs and milk, aloud, when the topic came up. I wasn’t in a hurry to talk about it all; but I was thinking it through. And these two conversations I was met with ignorance – a man passionate about “natural” foods, who insisted the males on the dairy farms had good lives after they were “sold”. I said, “Where are they sold to? What becomes of them?” – and he said, “They go to farms,” as if these bulls were given long happy lives. Then, two days later, a woman who promoted cage-free eggs on Facebook responded with startling vitriol when I suggested any kind of egg consumption may not be very ethical by any human standard.
The anger that met my most open-hearted musing really made an impression. I came to see that if I wanted to offer a choice to people, I would have to step across the threshold myself.
And I woke up a few days later and knew, Today’s the day.
And now? I’m vegan.
It has been a beautiful experience. I could write so much more about it! Veganism this time around has given me an intense, keen joy. To my astonishment, my family and many friends have followed along. Some to full veganism, some to vegetarianism, some to just less animal products – good for them, good for the environment, good for the heart and mind.
My children follow. My daughter is a passionate, lovely vegan. Her sense of humor is different than mine; but we are wicked and we share our joys and frustrations together. My son, who I never thought to see eschew meat, became a vegetarian just before my birthday. He is working toward veganism now.
Our household has changed. It happened so quickly, but it is not a surprise, not really.
Gentleness suits us. It seems to deliver more life, more humor, and more peace. Some people think when we consume meat, we consume not just hormones and poisons and unsafe chemicals – but adrenaline and fear and hate.
I don’t know what I think of that, but I do know that veganism brings me joy. I wouldn’t have found this serenity if I hadn’t let myself change. I find there is more to learn, more to love. I find I don’t have to listen to arguments, apathy, and angry words from people who don’t demonstrate a better plan for the environment, for the compassionate heart. They are free to their opinion, but are they who I want to advise me? This helps me think deeply – who do I want to listen to? Who can help me?
Joy has entered my household, in a surprising, wonderful way.
May you find the same!