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.