Whenever I have a vegan-versary or veggie-versary, I write an essay focusing on what veganism means to me, what struggles I work through or some other batch of feelings I need to express. July 21, 2015 marks 7 years to the day I watched “Meet Your Meat,” stopped eating meat and began my vegan journey. The following essay is what has been in my heart and head recently. It’s not meant to offend anyone; it’s just how I feel, expressed as honestly as everything else I write.
The inspiration to write this article came from yet another sudden wave of people who quit “being vegan,” put their “survival” stories on their blogs or on health-focused web sites and even wrote books about everything they think is wrong with being vegan. Their stories often sound like they finally escaped an evil Jonestown-style cult before they succumbed to the vegan kool-aid or were forced to breed with other herbivores to carry on the mutant vegan race.
Fueled by the multitude of comments where readers thanked the authors for the validation they needed to also quit “being vegan,” I wanted to express my anger and sadness through my writing.
I wanted to write about how these people weren’t really vegan in the first place – eating a vegan diet is NOT the same thing as “being vegan.”
I wanted to write about how saying they needed to listen to their bodies and give in to their cravings for fish, eggs or ice cream because it was necessary for their optimal health and survival were just excuses to eat the foods they wanted.
I wanted to point out that it sounded like these people had issues with food in general, not necessarily vegan food.
I wanted to rage about how selfish it is to be complicit in having animals be exploited, mistreated and killed just because they want to eat something that tastes good.
I wanted to tell these people that they can stick all the “cage-free,” “pasture-raised,” “grass-fed,” and “wild-caught” labels they wanted on their food if that makes them feel less guilty; it still adds up to the same thing: MURDERED ANIMALS.
But then I decided that I didn’t want to write about these people. I can’t speak for them and I don’t even want to attempt to. I can’t know what is in their hearts. I can only speak for myself and for my heart. I can’t write about why they quit “being vegan” and now feel the need to smear the name of a lifestyle led by compassion. I can only write about why I will never quit being vegan.
No one could crave animal foods more than I do. I was a huge meat-eater. Every meal had some type of animal in it. I was a perfect example of someone shaped by societal, media and big business myths and outright lies. I thought meat was the only source of protein, that milk “did a body good,” and that animals dying for our food was sad but that was just the way the world worked.
Plus, I just loved the taste of meat. Sure, I thought about being a vegetarian. After all, I “loved” animals. But I didn’t think I could live without meat and by live, I mean it in the same way I think I couldn’t live without television or coffee. Of course I could; I would just rather not have to.
I loved meat. Meat was at the center of all my favorite foods, of the foods I grew up with, of my favorite restaurants, of my closest relationships and in a million memories of special moments in my life.
Giving up meat felt like I would have to give up everything – my mother’s cooking, the restaurant where my husband and I had our first date, and the places I would go eat with co-workers and friends. I would have to give up the foods I loved most.
Notice a theme here? It was all about me and what I would have to give up. Me and the inconvenience not eating animal foods would place on my life. Me and what I wanted, me and what I liked. Me, me, me.
Then something shifted. I kept thinking about giving up meat. I requested vegetarian starter kits from PETA and Vegan Outreach. Then I clicked “PLAY” on the video “Meet Your Meat” and my world turned upside down. I cried and cried as I watched what animals suffered for ME and for MY food.
The realization hit me like a ton of bricks – meat, the food I loved and craved, led to the captivity and suffering of innocent animals, their terror and cries of pain, their separation from family, their murder – it wasn’t ABOUT me, it was BECAUSE of me.
And just like that, I stopped. I quit eating meat. Then I quit eating dairy, eggs or any animal products. Then I quit wearing leather, wool or suede. Then I changed up cosmetics and household products.
It may seem like I gave up a lot but I gained so much more. Sure, I lost some weight and my health improved but more importantly, my heart felt light, free and not weighed down by the suffering and death of others that I caused.
I also discovered a thousand other foods that I probably never would have tried had I kept eating meat, foods I love, and now I spend my time veganizing old favorite dishes.
Here is where I get really honest. I’m not like many vegans who say they don’t miss meat and get disgusted just hearing about meat or thinking about what they used to eat. While seeing or smelling animal foods sometimes bothers me, over seven years later, I still miss meat.
I miss the foods I used to eat and the places where I used to eat them. There are times I think about a sandwich I used to get that was filled with meat and cheese and my mouth waters. When I make Italian food, I miss the ooey-gooey, stretchy mozzarella that no vegan cheese can truly emulate. My husband and I often take trips down our culinary memory lane reminiscing about meals we ate and loved.
Yes, seven years later, I still crave animal foods.
That’s ok. I don’t mind having cravings. Cravings are normal. Cravings are just a manifestation of my memories, emotions and desires around food and my experiences that are associated with food.
My cravings do not control me. Nor do my desires.
Just because I see beautiful and/or expensive clothes, jewelry or furnishings, that doesn’t mean that I have to have them, no matter what the price. Just because I think a guy is hot doesn’t mean I have to have him, no matter who it hurts. Supposedly, that ability to curb our desires and consider the consequences is what separates us from lower life forms and those who lack a conscience.
I might see non-vegan food that makes me drool but I choose not to eat it because it causes harm.
Choosing not to eat food that comes from animals is easy.
I might think, “Oh, those shrimp look so good. Yum!” but then I choose not to be complicit in the death of other beings.
Yeah, that burger looks good but not so good that I want someone to slit the throat of a beautiful cow so I can eat one.
No matter how much I miss mozzarella, no baby calf is going to be separated from his mother and become veal so that I can have melted cheese on my food.
Really, is a slice of pizza or a burger worth a life?
I cannot imagine being that selfish and self-absorbed ever again. It shames me that I ever was. No matter how much I might crave a food, I can’t un-know what I know, I can’t un-see the looks of terror in their eyes, I can’t un-hear their cries.
That is how I know I will NEVER quit being vegan.
There is a saying I love – paraphrased it says, “If being vegan seems hard for you, it’s because you’re thinking about yourself. If being vegan seems easy, it’s because you’re thinking about others.”
Being vegan is easy. There is NOTHING I need from animals except their forgiveness.
Animals need something from me though – they need me to think about something besides myself, they need me to think about the implications of what I eat, and they need me to show them mercy so that they might have a chance to live in peace and freedom with their families.
How could anyone with a heart do anything else?
I will NEVER quit being vegan because there is NOTHING I need to eat so badly, I would condone a living being losing their freedom or life for.
Every day I have the choice to add something positive or negative to this world, to add pain and suffering or mercy and kindness.
I can’t speak to why anyone would choose for innocent animals to suffer or die. I can only speak for myself and every day, at every meal, I choose life…for the rest of my life.
Rhea, I was moved by your letter. The essence of being vegan is that one learns, finally, to think about someone else, about other living beings, and is inspired by the decision and the knowledge that no creature must suffer in order to put food on one’s plate. My decision was solidified after I watched Cowspiracy and the evil industry tucked behind curtain number two. I have never been religious or shaped my life to be spiritual-focused. However, once I gave up animal products, I felt at ease. That I was finally free from my delusions and from supporting a brutal and unforgivingly cruel industry of death. You are absolutely right that people who gave up being vegan were never vegans to begin with, for one either arrives at this level of consciousness or does not; but for true vegans, there is no return. And why would there be? I find it comforting that the network of vegans and vegan healthful eating choices are growing, allowing me to learn from likeminded people. Thank you for your recipes and for your opening your world to us newcomers in the vegan world.
Thank you Laird xoxo
Thanks for sharing your thoughts. While reading your words it felt as if I’d written them myself.
for me it was a switch that flicked – i find the idea of “meat’ as abhorrent as it happening to children. its not something you return from or escape. Its actually the only way to be.
Perfectly said Rhea. I never comment on blogs but just had to say thank you for this. I have been infuriated with people who suddenly decide to eat meat again after being so called Vegan. They may have been plant based eaters for a while, but there’s a huge difference to plant based eating and Vegan. How dare they declare they needed to start eating some form of animal due to health or other excuse when in reality they did it because they wanted to. (There is not one sickness that meat can cure, but causes a great many) They obviously think their taste buds are more important than an animals life. I unsubscribed to every blog who went in this direction. I admire you so much for taking a stance on this issue publicly as a blogger, as I myself have been vegan over 30 years (vegetarian 28 years prior to that) and would rather die than eat my friends. Thank you for a great blog, honesty and your commitment to our animal friends who deserve better than selfish people.
By the way, that is a beautiful Vegan medallion. Where could I get one like it?
Hi Sharon, that medallion was made by Debbie Kowalski who runs For the Animals Sanctuary http://www.fortheanimalssanctuary.org/about-us/ in NJ. I bought it at a silent auction at Catskills Animal Sanctuary.
I too give you a Standing Ovation. Very well said and I agree with every word you say. Thank you for putting it in print. I have such a hard time being around my friends who still choose to contribute to the cruelty. I’m in such a dilemma as to what to do. I have been told by most of them that they don’t want to hear it. They feel I’m lecturing. They love the taste of meat and won’t give it up. Yet ALL of these people purport to be “Animal Lovers” How did you handle friends and family. I rarely get invited to dinner anymore. That certainly doesn’t bother me. What I miss is the easy friendship I used to have with these friends. They feel awkward around me at meal times now. They feel I’m judging them. I’m not, I just wish they would wake up to what they’re doing.
I’ve been living a Vegan lifestyle for 3 years now. I was Vegetarian for about 20 yrs before going Vegan. My biggest regret is not doing it sooner but I know it’s no good having regrets. I feel so good about living a cruelty free life (for as much as we can) Apparently they use animal products to produce so much stuff today. Even furniture. I do my best to avoid what I know for sure will have animal products in it. I still read EVERY label to ensure there is no hidden dairy etc.
I think I’ll send your comment to my friends and let the chips fall where they may. Keep up your great work Rhea, I’ve made some of your recipes and I love them all. Food NEVER tasted so good. 🙂
Hi Sharon, thank you for your kind words. I agree that it’s hard to be around people who don’t want to hear it but I was one of those people for decades. I didn’t allow myself to hear it until I was over 40. Since I understand that thinking, I can’t be judgmental of people in that position (at least I try not to be). So I don’t disrespect my friends who are not vegan and I expect them to not disrespect me. I can’t judge people as good or bad based on what they eat; we are so much more than that and I try to see them as pre-vegan and hope I might influence them. I would not disown friends or family unless they were disrespectful to my veganism. Luckily, that’s been rare for me.
My issue is with people who DO know and then continue to be part of the horror. Like I wrote, I can’t un-know so I just don’t understand people who quit because they DO know. It took so much to knock my walls down, I can’t imagine being able to put them back up. xoxo
**STANDING OVATION** ❤️❤️
Thank you Nancy xoxo
So so so agree! Thank you so much for writing this. (Like you, I still missed the thought of favourite comfort foods for a long time, but learned to veganize them – which is why I love your site!! Now, I find vegan versions way more delicious than the originals – but it did take some time. Now, meat smells like a morgue to me. Zero desire.). As I heard Jim Morrissey say in an interview about meat tasting good (with Stephen Colbert): “well, my grandmother might taste good too, but I’d never eat her.” It surprised me actually, how euphoric it feels to eat an amazingly delicious meal and know it’s cruelty free!
It is euphoric, Carrie. I can’t believe it took me so long to figure that out. Thank you for the kind words. xoxo
Well said, Rhea.
Thank you Jacqui xoxo