Why vegan? As a teacher who doesn’t eat animal products or use products that test on animals, I get asked this a lot.
Today’s fun departure from our typical classroom talk is twofold:
- To answer the question: Why vegan? How did I get there? Given its rapid rise in popularity as industry practices and the environmental costs become public knowledge, more people are asking why vegan.
- One of the neatest things about blogs is getting to know about others’ lives. We get invested in the people we follow. Through these people, we see unique sides of life that alter our view of the world. So I thought it might be interesting to share this part of my life, as it shapes who I am and has made me a better teacher and human animal. 🙂
I will not, however, be sharing any grisly details on what is done to animals. I think most people resist asking “why vegan” because they’re afraid of what they’ll hear. And for good reason. The reality of our food system is ugly.
I’ll include links to sites where you can learn more if you’re curious. But today I’m simply going to state how I got to where I am. Next week, I’ll talk about savory and sweet foods and will share my favorite cookbooks and authors and such. (Which I think you’ll like regardless of your food preferences. Many people want recipes on hand so that they can vary their cooking routine or cook for vegan family or guests.) The week after that, we’ll go back to the classroom.
Sound good? (And if this ain’t your cup o’ tea, I’ll see you in two weeks, loves.)
As a youngster, I grew up among great cooks who fed me a pretty varied diet of foods. We had fresh vegetables and fruits a’plenty along with some kind of meat at almost every meal.
I was taught to be kind to animals, though my definition of animals was initially limited. I remember being about seven and playing on King Hill Road where I spent most of my summer days. It was a dead-end street, which meant very low traffic — heaven for kids like us with rollerskates and bikes. Anyhow, I spied a bunch of ants on the sidewalk, heading towards some unknown destination. And I made a little game out of stepping on as many of them as I could.
One of my friends stopped me in my tracks — literally, now that I think of it — by asking why I would do that. “How would you like it if someone just stomped on you?” she asked with her eyes screwed up at me in disbelief. I was defensive at first, but later thought more on it. And for the first time, I regarded bugs as beings in their own right. I had never considered it before.
Several summers later, I was in Lenox with my cousin Sarah, visiting my aunt and uncle at the farm where they worked and lived. We went to a local fair — a pretty modest but fun one. (My little brother won a skateboard in a game. He was so beyond the moon over that!) There was a trailer there that you could step into where you could learn about animal welfare. I don’t know if it was by PETA or a local organization. But it impacted me. For the first time, I learned that animals were used in testing products like makeup. How cruel, I thought. Why would they do that? The poor animals!
I talked to my family about it but I don’t remember anyone being upset over it like I was. (Though maybe they were. Memory is a fickle thing, isn’t it?)
During the same trip, I got to know some of the animals that were destined for slaughter. There was one steer named “Burger.” I was both humored and repulsed by the name. The next summer, we ate the steaks that came from him. I remember being sad at his end, but also amazed at how good the meat tasted.
It was uncomfortable harboring both viewpoints. Ultimately, I decided that it was unfortunate that the animals had to die, but that meat was a necessary part of one’s diet. Ideally, it would be great if we all ate animals that came from happy places like the farm in Lenox. They’d have a lovely pastoral life and a quick death.
Twenties & Thirties
In college, I often ate at the vegetarian cafeteria and at a veggie campus hotspot called Earthfoods. Why? The food was way better. It was as simple as that.
Cheaply-prepared animal meats, which abounded at our state school, often had gristle and fat in them, something I found nauseating and gag-inducing. It was a texture thing. My family used to tease me for cutting my meat a full half-inch away from any semblance of fat. But I couldn’t stand the slick sliminess of it.
During one summer at home from school, I read Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappe and learned about the environmental devastation caused by the raising and killing of animals. I flirted with the idea of becoming vegetarian and told my mother. She said she didn’t know how to cook that way and I’d have to figure it out for myself. So I did. After college ended, I rented a small apartment with a friend and began experimenting with vegetarian cooking and LOVED it. Though like any new cook, I had my share of culinary disasters. (Once I made cinnamon raisin bread that was so hard and dense it could have been used as a weapon.) I wasn’t vegetarian though. Just a temporary wannabe who fell in love with the Moosewood Cookbook.
When I moved to Bolivia to work as a Peace Corps volunteer, I was mildly irritated by fellow volunteers who were completely vegetarian. My view was that we should all enter the culture of the country and eat what the citizens of that country ate. I prided myself on “going with the flow” and often boasted that I’d eat anything. And I did. I ate cow’s hearts, tongues and stomachs and even ate guinea pigs once. If the locals served it, I ate it, often with a big glass of water so I could swallow the pieces whole. (Again, the textures FREAKED me out.)
BUT. I lived a few doors down from the town butcher. And the noises. The noises made me incredibly sad. Seeing the cows led up the cobblestone steps and through the doors? I ached to grab the rope and run away with them. Once a cow did break free and ran down the road away from the butcher. She was caught, of course. And folks laughed good-naturedly at her attempts to escape. And I felt again that uncomfortable mix of compassion and denial.
After returning from Bolivia, I got a job in Indianapolis. As that city is the meeting of many major interstates, a lot of monster trucks would barrel down the highways. One late afternoon, I was slowly passed by a truck full of pigs on their way to slaughter. One of the pigs looked out the slats on the truck’s siding and made eye contact with me. S/he looked so damned scared. Her eye was like a human’s eye. And it felt like she was appealing to me for help.
I felt sick. I took the nearest exit, pulled my old red Corolla over to the side of the road, and began bawling. My hands were shaking, and it was a good ten minutes before I felt sane enough to drive again.
And here’s the strange thing that I still don’t understand. I kept eating meat. Looking back, one would think that that was the tipping point for me. But it wasn’t. I don’t know if I just pushed the thought aside. I honestly can’t remember. But I never forgot that pig.
Fast forward to my fortieth.
I saw a book at Barnes and Noble with a cover that charmed me. It was Colleen Patrick Goudreau’s Vegan’s Daily Companion. All the pictures made me inexplicably happy. And, being someone who frequents bookstores, I’d “visit” this book every time. What a peaceful way of living, I thought. Of course, I added to myself, I could never go vegan. But still. It seemed like such a nice way to live.
I kept thinking about it. And thinking.
And I decided to do some searches online. Not because I wanted to go vegan, I quickly reassured myself. I was simply curious about how other people lived.
So I looked at some blogs. And I saw a link to a video that said something to the effect of, “If you eat meat, you should watch this ten-minute video.” I instinctively knew it was going to be bad. But curiosity made me click.
I am not going to tell you what I saw. I had long suspected animal production was pretty bad. Nothing had prepared me though, for the cruelty and fear I witnessed. And again, the noises haunted me.
I remember exactly where I sat in the kitchen and the slant of the sun coming through the front room window. It’s burned into my memory.
What was done to the animals went way beyond than my worst imaginings. I couldn’t believe this stuff was legal. (It was and is.) My ideas about humane-meat, cage-free eggs, kosher meat. It all came tumbling down.
After the video stopped, I sat and recovered.
And — I know this sounds melodramatic, but it’s true — I was suddenly vegan. I could never touch animal meat, or eggs, or dairy again. Now that I knew the truth, I could not support what was done to these animals with my palate or dollars.
My next thought was how this would work with my husband. Would we have to cook separately now? Cooking with our busy schedules was hard enough. How would we accommodate both our diets?
I talked to him that night. I was as honest as I could be, and he could see how affected I was by what I had seen. And you know what he said?
“Well, I’ll try it with you for a month. I’ve been wanting to lose a couple of pounds anyway.”
Which shocked me. He loved eating steak and burgers and such.
On his own — I swear, I didn’t pressure him — he read Eating Animals by John Safran Foer. He still ate animal meat every now and then when he went out. But gradually, he began researching on his own and cutting animal products out of his diet. And now, seven years later he’s vegan too.
Seven years later
So I’ve been vegan for seven years. I wished I’d done it sooner. It’s a pretty lovely way to live and I’ve met some cool people along the way.
Next week, I’ll talk more about what I eat. Meanwhile, here are some links if you want to learn a little more.
- Colleen Patrick-Goudreau is the author of the Vegan’s Daily Companion I included further up. She has an incredible podcast and one of the best mantras out there: Don’t do nothing because you can’t do everything. Do something. Anything. She runs the 30-day Vegan Challenge, which is an online program you can join. I bought it and it’s worth every penny. Outstanding content and very thorough. This woman is the real deal.
- Jo-Anne McArthur is someone I’ve had the privilege to talk with on numerous occasions. She’s one of the loveliest people on the planet with the strongest heart I know. She photographs rescued animals but also animals in the food, research, clothing, and entertainment industry. This page of resources to learn more is an outstanding place to begin learning.
- Farm Sanctuary is one of the neatest organizations I’ve ever come across. If you want to learn more about farmed animals in a non-threatening and informative way, this is the place! I’ve visited their sanctuary in New York and it’s one of my favorite places on earth. It leaves me blissfully happy and hopeful. And it’s pretty danged gorgeous there.
Now it’s time to turn the mike over to you. In the comments below, tell us:
- What questions do you have about veganism?
- Name an animal (pet or otherwise) who touched your life! Dog, guinea pig, snail, human, etc.
As always, if you found this information valuable, please share it on your favorite social media platform! Till next week!
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