Fifteen years ago on December 1st, 2001, I implemented a decision that would forever change my life: I decided to go vegan.
Fifteen years later, I’m still joyfully vegan. 🙂
Previous to taking the plunge to follow a vegan lifestyle, I had long struggled with the idea of eating animals.
One memory comes from when I was very young — I’m guessing I might have been about four years old (and certainly no older than five). At that point in my life, I had never yet eaten a particular kind of meat that my dad’s side of the family would often prepare and eat as part of the Sunday Family dinners we would have at my father’s parents’ house… a meat they referred to as “spare ribs”. (As a reference point, my parents had separated when I was about three and a half years old, so it’s no wonder I had developed the habit of referring to my family as either my mom or “mom’s side” versus my dad or “dad’s side”.)
As a child, this “spare rib” meat looked gross to me. It had big bones poking out of it. It obviously came from an animal, and I was afraid to eat it.
It was during one of these Sunday dinners my dad and grandparents — although I think it was more my grandfather’s doing, come to think of it — had decided enough was enough… it was time to push my child food-pickiness aside and make me eat spare ribs.
I remember how I really didn’t want to eat it. Sure, I had never tried one before, so how could I know I wouldn’t like it? But the mere idea of eating it just tore me up inside. “Just try it, you’ll like it,” they insisted. I was adamantly stubborn and not wanting to eat it, but they kept persisting. I remember feeling so strongly about it I was crying, literally in tears. But they wouldn’t stop and leave me alone until I had at least one taste.
I finally gave in. I reluctantly took a bite of a slimy looking spare rib. Getting myself to take a bite seemed like torture at the time. And…
…It wasn’t awful. I didn’t die. And it was okay, actually. I guess I liked it?
The indoctrination was complete. Eating parts of cooked, dead animals was normal, I was supposed to like it, want it, and eat it… and so I did.
I had a long and difficult struggle in terms of having a healthy relationship with food before adopting a plant-based diet.
The food I was fed by my family and parents while growing up was not the healthiest.
Since my mom had sole custody of me (my dad had visiting rights every second weekend, and I would spend the night at his place on those weekends), my primary source of food was from my mom and her side of the family. Nearly everyone on my mom’s side is obese. Genetics surely plays some factor, but so does learned behavior, such as food choices and eating habits.
Looking back, whole grains, fruits, legumes and vegetables were not abundant in my youth. Fruit usually consisted of sad macintosh apples… the kind that had a thick wax coating, were often bruised and mealy, and were definitely not a pleasure to eat. Maybe there were bananas on occasion, but usually it was just sad, crappy apples. Fresh produce was usually limited to iceberg lettuce (typically reserved for making taco salad), carrots (which were somehow pretty bad, too), and an occasional tomato (which was also usually specially reserved for taco salad as well). Everything else came from a package, can, or a box, or was meat or dairy (and sometimes egg). I grew up on Flintstone vitamins, second hand smoke, Kool-Aid and a plethora of BPA-laden canned foods.
I was given the responsibility of making my own lunches around the age of six. One time at daycare, I had traded some component of my lunch for someone else’s… I can’t remember now what it was… half a sandwich for a cookie? Or maybe it was one of those bad, crappy apples for a cookie… I can’t quite recall. One of the daycare supervisors witnessed this and tattletaled on me by informing my mom of the trade. The resulting consequence or punishment that followed would be the responsibility of making my own lunch would forever be mine. …I’d even end up making my mom’s lunch on occasion, too.
Learning to enjoy and even desire healthful foods did not really start happening in my life until I made the decision to embrace a vegan lifestyle. High quality fruits and vegetables were rarely ever present in my life before then. My dad’s side of the family tended to eat relatively healthier foods with more vegetables, but these were often very bland and over-cooked — in true English tradition. 😉
Growing up, my favorite foods were spaghetti, Kraft Dinner (aka macaroni and cheese, Kraft brand), and cheese. In regards to cheese, my favorite cheeses were old cheddar (only available at my dad’s — my mom preferred mild cheddar) and Kraft Parmesan. Sometimes Cheeze Whiz (which is another Kraft product)… which again, come to think of it, was typically only at my dad’s as well. I distinctly remember my young little self announcing my love of cheese by stating that I wanted to marry it when I grew up.
I was generally a sad child, likely even depressed (though never clinically diagnosed). I don’t have a lot of happy memories from my youth. I distinctly remember crying a lot, feeling sad and depressed and lonely. Perhaps these poor quality foods that fed my body also fueled these feelings, but when I was sad I’d want their comfort, too.
I was a fat kid. I think I got fat while I was in kindergarten, around age six. At that age I had a period of illness where I was infected with chickenpox, measles and mumps pretty much all in a row. (I still have chickenpox scars.) Being essentially bedridden for a long stretch of time, it was a very lethargic time in my youth, and the only way I could manage to swallow my prescribed antibiotics was to chase it down with a big glass of chocolate milk… so you could imagine how drinking a lot of chocolate milk every day plus being bed ridden could easily fatten up my little body in a short period of time. It wouldn’t surprise me if the antibiotics messed with the healthy digestive bacteria, too, contributing to a sluggish digestion.
I was put on multiple diets as a kid, usually while dieting with my mom or aunt or grandma, or even all three. We were all fat. …I wasn’t an obese child, just rather chubby and pudgy. Even so, I don’t think it’s healthy for pre-teen children to be placed on calorie restrictive diets; it’s a perfect setup for creating unhealthy relationships with food (and self), and could possibly even restrict growth. It wouldn’t surprise me if I might have been malnourished from a lack of quality nutrients, perhaps even contributing to my very short stature. (Note: Yes, you can be fat and malnourished. It’s a matter of lack of quality nutrients vs intaking a lot of low-quality or empty calories.)
When I was around twelve and later thirteen, I lost a notable amount of weight from dieting (i.e. restricting calories). Sometimes I would only eat a single-serving bag of taco chips for lunch with an apple. Diet Coke was my savior. Even at my thinnest I was never very thin, especially compared to the thin and pretty girls, and my butt and upper thighs were still laden with cellulite (it had been there from even a younger age); but at least I no longer looked fat while clothed. I got compliments from teachers at school for having lost weight. It helped improved my self-confidence.
Later that year, though, I gained it all back, and more. My mom moved into a new house in a new neighborhood, and I didn’t know anybody at all in the area. I felt really really lonely, and again would turn to food for comfort during that lonely summer break. I’d eat entire boxes of Kraft Dinner and add even more cheese (I loved adding parmesan to KD). I’d eat a bunch of these “Mint Melt-Away” chocolates that were lying around my dad’s plac from a past school fundraiser. I ballooned up and got stretch marks from gaining weight so fast. There were even bright red stretch marks on my upper arms… 23-24 years later, I still have pretty bad stretch mark scars on my arms. (I don’t think they ever go away.) I felt horrible in my body. I just wanted to hide and not be seen.
I remember a different summer where I committed to losing weight again. I implemented a combination of drinking a lot of water, not eating much, and exercise. I know I lost weight, but I can’t remember how much. I think I was probably within a healthy BMI, but again, my entire life I had always been rather flabby, even when in a healthy BMI range. (Yo-yo dieting would become a regular part of my life. I suppose to some extent, it still is, but no where near as bad as it used to be.)
Sometime around the age of sixteen, I remember being at a family dinner at my Grandma’s on my mom’s side. It might have been a Thanksgiving Dinner, or a birthday dinner, or maybe even Easter; I can’t recall. But whatever the occasion, there was at least one dead animal, if not two… a chicken or turkey, and a ham. For some reason, I began to think of the meat at the dinner table as animals that had once been alive, and that had died simply so we could eat them. It seemed unfair to me, and sad.
I voiced this thought of mine. I don’t remember my exact words, but I shared how I thought it was sad that we had to kill animals to eat them.
I’ll never forget what my Grandmother said in response: “But God put the animals on Earth for us to eat.”
I remember feeling so angry at such an idea. As a teenager who self-identified with Atheist principles, the whole idea of “but that’s what God wants” was frustrating and angering beyond belief. I wasn’t going to buy that as a logical reason to eat animals, but yet I couldn’t find a logical reason to stop eating them, either.
Around this same time, I had been dating my first boyfriend. (Our relationship would last for nearly 7 years.) My boyfriend didn’t eat pork due to religious reasons. Wanting to be supportive, and perhaps also wanting a seemingly valid reason to not eat animals, I had decided I wouldn’t eat pork, either. I never have since.
Time passed, and I shoved that feeling of discomfort about eating animals aside. But it never fully went away. At some point later down the road, I shared with my boyfriend my inner struggle regarding the idea of killing animals to eat them. My boyfriend seemed adamant that we needed to eat meat in oder to be healthy… but that if I was uncomfortable with the idea of animal slaughter, then perhaps I might feel better about only eating meat from animals that were killed in a more “humane” way.
My boyfriend was a couple years older than me, so I figured he must be right. And plus, the Internet wasn’t yet known as a popular tool for research back then. I mean, Google didn’t even exist yet! (And I’m someone who started using Google within months of its release! Hell, computers weren’t even an every day household item yet.) …So I took my boyfriend’s word for it and didn’t question his belief that we simply needed to eat meat for the sake of health and well-being. But it was then when I decided I’d only eat meat from sources that were considered to be more humane than regular meat.
(In hindsight, it’s astonishing how the concept of vegetarianism had never crossed my path. I don’t think I knew a single vegetarian growing up. Everyone ate meat. It was just normal and something you were supposed to do.)
I don’t remember how old I was when I made that decision to eat so-called “humane” meat. I think I might have been 18 or possibly even 19. At any rate, for years to come, I followed a mostly vegetarian diet, usually eating meat only a couple times a week when we had dinner with my boyfriend’s family (who also made it a practice to purchase and cook with the type of “humanely slaughtered” meat).
Since I was no longer eating as much meat, I ended up eating even more cheese than before. Too much cheese. And too much processed food in general, although that was simply due to lack of proper nutrition education. I gained a lot of weight. I think I was 21 when I realized I had been steadily gaining weight and was then nearly 160 pounds, which is considered to be borderline obese for my height. The thought of being so overweight that I was almost considered to be clinically obese hit me hard. I knew I had to lose weight.
I started a diet program online with e-diets and I started going to the Y.
With persistence, some of the weight started to come off. (…But unbeknownst to me at the time, it wouldn’t be until I went vegan more than a year later before finally getting back into a healthy weight and BMI range.)
Probably around the same time, I recall I became disillusioned with my solution of only eating “humanely slaughtered” meat (such an oxymoron!) to make peace with my discomfort of eating animals that were being killed for the sake of being my food. I’d ask myself, “What’s the point? What difference does it make? The animal is still getting killed in the end.” I used this thinking as some kind of reasoning or reassurance to give myself permission to start eating chicken from restaurants once again… but I’d still make sure I would only consume “humanely” killed beef. “Maybe eating chicken in restaurants is better than always opting for the cheese option and getting fat off cheese.”
In fall of 2001, I was enrolled in a theatre acting class where one of my classmates identified himself as vegan. I had never heard about vegans before. I would soon learn that vegans not only don’t eat meat of any kind, but they also don’t eat cheese or other forms of dairy, nor eggs… nor anything that was derived from an animal. …Huh.
Despite having long held discomfort surrounding the slaughter of animals for food, the idea of adopting a vegan diet never really occurred to me… not right away, that is.
The vegan classmate wasn’t really an in-your-face type of vegan. One time he and I ended up being scene partners, and as a result we ended up spending some time outside of class to meet up, go over lines and rehearse. Sometimes we’d end up grabbing a meal before or after class. It was probably during these times where the idea of actually considering veganism as an option for myself really set in.
One evening after class, I got on the Internet and did a Google search about veganism. I found a link from PETA – People for Ethical Treatment of Animals. I followed the link and starting learning things I honestly had no clue about before.
Before then, I honestly had no idea that the dairy industry was intrinsically linked to the meat industry! Supporting dairy (via one’s consumption or purchasing dollars) invariably meant supporting veal. Cheese almost always was tied into cow slaughter, because a main component in most cheese (at least the cheeses I loved) was rennet, an enzyme derived from the stomach lining of calves. …Not to mention how baby calves are taken away from the lactating mother cows to be caged so that they can later be slaughtered and sold as veal.
I saw secretly-obtained video footage of the cruel treatment of chickens being slaughtered for KFC by having their heads violently thrown , whacked and beaten against walls. I saw videos of standard practices for cow and pig slaughter. I cried from seeing these horrific images. …How could I NOT?
I was horrified and disgusted.
In addition to the above, I started reading about a plethora of environmental reasons for going vegan, not to mention reasons related to human health.
Then and there, I decided I had to go vegan. There was no way I could continue eating meat and supporting the egg and dairy industries after being exposed to all this new information.
It was late November. I decided I would stop eating meat 100% from that point forward. I’d finish up whatever non-vegan vegetarian food was already in my house, but aside from that, I didn’t want to support the animal-food industries ever again. My plan was to go 100% vegan as of December 1st.
I had initially considered waiting to go vegan as of January 1st. After all, the holidays were coming up, and holidays are usually celebrated with tons of non-vegan foods. One of my favorite foods up til that point was a cheese ball that was a tradition to make and eat around the holidays… let alone buttery shortbread cookies, chocolates, the turkey at Christmas dinner, cheddar and potato pierogies, etc., etc.. What would my family think of me suddenly pushing all these long-held traditions aside?
But it didn’t matter. I realized I would feel horrible inside my heart and could no longer enjoy those foods anymore. It would be grotesquely incongruent for me to eat those foods during the holidays even if I did intend to give them up as of January 1st. …So December 1st, 2001, it would be. I would go fully vegan on that date.
Honestly, it wasn’t even difficult. It’s true that there weren’t very many vegan products available back then, but there were some, like Yves Veggie Ground Rounds. Fake/vegan “meat” products are great for transitioning from an omnivore diet to a fully vegan one. I also bought a vegan cookbook, which gave me a lot of great ideas for vegan dishes to make. …It really is hard to stress how easy the transition was — even for someone like me who had so immensely loved cheese.
Hands down, making the commitment to follow a vegan lifestyle has been the best decision of my life. I love eating plant-based foods. Knowing that the ingredients of the foods I choose to eat are not a part of the cruelty associated with the meat and dairy and egg industries makes me feel lighter in my heart.
I saw a quote today that said something to the effect of going vegan is a choice your heart makes, and I must say that has definitely been true for me.
My main reason for going vegan was for ethical, compassionate reasons — for the animals. True, I also did it for the well being of the Earth (and the human species as a whole — we’re all connected), as well as reasons pertaining to personal physical health; but the main factor that drove me to go vegan and compels me to stay vegan is and always will be the well being of the animals and the reduction of their needless suffering.
After going vegan, I eventually lost a lot of excess weight, and after some time I finally got back to my ideal weight range. My weight still yo-yos a bit from time to time depending on how often I exercise and how often I indulge (I’d imagine my metabolism has decreased with age), but even so, I know I’m much healthier now than I ever used to be prior to adopting a plant-based diet. I exercise more now than I ever used to prior to going vegan — exercise just feels way more enjoyable than it ever used to. (…Exercise never really felt enjoyable prior to going vegan, to be honest; it had always felt rather torturous before.) I had no idea how badly phlegmy my respiratory system truly was due to my dairy consumption, because it was only after giving up dairy I was able to see the huge difference: I could suddenly run and exercise without getting giant gobs of disgusting phlegm accumulating in my mouth and throat. Being rid of those dairy-related systems was such a relief! And yet, I would have never known that it was related to my dairy consumption if I had never opted to give it up for good.
It was the vegan lifestyle that opened my eyes to the wonderful world of fresh fruits and a rainbow of vegetables. Granted, anyone, regardless of their way of eating, can add more fruits and vegetables to their daily diet. But since I was surrounded by friends and family who ate little to no vegetables (yet lots of meat, dairy and starch), it really did take a whole shift in my dietary paradigm to make the daily consumption of leafy greens a reality for me. Now I LOVE vegetables so much — I can’t get enough! They just make me so happy!! I’ll often even exclaim aloud my love for broccoli or salad or avocado (which is technically a fruit), etc. (I was not exposed to fresh avocado until sometime after becoming vegan, so I feel as though I really do have reason to do a little happy dance when I prepare and eat avocado. 😉 )
Anyway, so that’s my story of how I came to be vegan. It’s been 15 years now since making that decision, and I’ve never looked back… I plan to remain vegan for the rest of my life.
After reading this, do I expect you to go vegan now, too? Well, that depends on you. Of course I’d be happy if you chose to omit all animal products from your diet, because that would invariably equate to less animal suffering in the world. But I know there are some people who feel completely congruent and at ease with the idea of slaughtering animals for food. I, however, am not one of those people.
If you yourself would not voluntarily kill an animal for food because the idea of committing such a violent act disturbs you and goes against your inherent kind, compassionate nature, then I urge you to please consider giving veganism a try. You don’t have to jump right in like I did (although you could); you might try eating vegan a couple times a week or more. Or you could go fully vegan for 30 days, just to see what it’s like. Either way, I urge you to please arm yourself with some research first so that you set yourself up for a successful, positive experience.
Whatever your choice is and whatever you do, my only hope is that you are fully conscious about your dietary choices, actions, and habits, and don’t just follow a particular way of eating out of cultural indoctrination (i.e. what your upbringing and mainstream society taught you to believe without question). I encourage you to do some deliberate research. Question the main driving force behind your existing habits and actions.
…And above all, listen to your heart.
“When you feel the suffering of every living thing in your own heart, that is consciousness.”
~ Bbhavagad Gita