How Did You Become Vegan?

Monday, September 21, 2009

In light of the (still ongoing) debate that started here on Friday I've been thinking a lot about the tactics we use as vegans. I hate to use the word "convert" because it makes it sound like we're part of a religious cult, which is exactly the kind of reputation I try to avoid. But to some degree or another, we all promote this lifestyle.

So I'm curious to hear the story of what convinced you to go vegan? Was there a defining moment or a series of realizations? Did you go cold-turkey or slowly over time? Was there a specific book, website, organization or person that influenced the decision?

Mine was definitely a long journey that I'll now share. The first time I met a vegetarian I was in 6th grade. She was a CIT at the Long Island day camp where I was a camper and when she was telling me all the reasons why she didn't eat meat it made a lot of sense to me. When I mentioned this to my parents they told me it was unhealthy and silly and I more or less dropped it.

As I got older though, I was increasingly picky about the meat I ate. If I could see fat I wouldn't eat it. If it were too "bloody" I wouldn't eat it. Basically, the more it resembled an animal the more grossed out I was. Based mainly on the "squickiness" of it, I finally gave up red meat when I was 17 or so. In the year of college that followed I was living in Manhattan and ate every meal out, so this was pretty easy, but then I dropped out and moved to Michigan when I was 19.

This was the first time I was living on my own in a space that actually had a kitchen. Suddenly I had to go grocery shopping and cook my own meals. When I would pass by raw chicken meat in the store I simply couldn't fathom having to cut that up and cook it. I stocked up on veggie burgers instead and decided I would give this vegetarian thing a try. This was in 2001. After Michigan I moved to Texas where I was nervous that I wouldn't even be able to survive as a vegetarian. But I ended up having a few veggie co-workers who were helpful, and boy did I eat a lot of cheese.

When people asked my why I was vegetarian (which happened a lot while living in cow country. I even dated a guy who was a former cow inseminator on a dairy farm!) I usually answered "because meat is gross." Not a particularly deep answer, but I wanted to avoid getting into the uncomfortable topic that I felt it was "gross" to eat a sentient animal. If I wouldn't kill a pig in the wild, how could I justify eating pepperoni?

I moved back to New York to return to school in 2003. In 2004 the movie "Supersize Me" came out which led me to read Fast Food Nation. Even though I'd been vegetarian for three years, this was the first time I began reading about the atrocities of factory farming and everything that was wrong with fast food. I began examining my own eating habits and realizing that eating an Egg and Cheese McMuffin from McDonald's was probably not the best choice, so I swore off most fast food. 

And that led me to read Mad Cowboy which was concurrent with an Environmental Science class I was taking. When I started reading about the environmental effects associated with animal agriculture I was startled. And when the author Howard Lyman started encouraging a vegan diet, not just vegetarian I was torn. I sure did love my cheese and eggs. Plus I had a known a few vegans who seemed to me to be crazy extremists. I hated tofu, so what would I do for protein? I was also under the misimpression that most bread had milk in it, which just goes to show you how little most people know about what's in their food. I made some changes where I thought I could - I switched to using soy milk and would sometimes sub in Veggie Slices soy cheese. (Which I'd later learn were not vegan.)

In 2005 I moved to California and that's when I met Tim, the man who would later become my husband. He'd been vegan since 1996 so naturally I had a lot of questions, but still maintained that veganism would be too hard for me. After a few months of dating when I learned that I liked tofu after all I decided I'd try going vegan for a week to see if I could do it, if for no other reason than because it felt disrespectful to eat eggs and dairy around him.

I made a lot of rookie mistakes in that week, buying all kinds of awful fake cheeses and terrible soy products. But when I didn't try to replace the things I was missing and instead focused on trying out new foods and combinations I started to really enjoy it. One week turned into a month and a month has now turned into four plus years.  Over the course of this time I've educated myself a lot more about the health, environmental, and ethical implications of veganism. 

Though I'm certainly far more vocal about it than I used to be, I'm still  a bit of a reluctant activist. And in the past two weeks I've managed to write posts pissing off both vegans and non-vegans. I'd go crazy if I tried to please everyone or got too worked up over it though, so perhaps I should stick to writing recipes

But first I want to hear your story! Tell me about your vegan journey in the comments!

7 comments: said...

it was totally vain of me -- I wanted to lose weight, get rid of my acne and migraines... (I was a vegetarian) but along the way I stayed and wil lbe a vegan for the rest of my life for other reasons.

Tim Moore said...

I also started finding a lot of meat pretty unappealing at around age 17 or 18, but didn't really consider going vegetarian until going to college.

I was lucky enough to go to a pretty vegan-friendly school. I knew a number of vegetarians there, and some of them decided within the first month or two to go vegan. One gave me a copy of the "Why Vegan?" pamphlet from Vegan Outreach, and it really opened my eyes. I had no idea what life was like for animals on factory farms before reading that.

I still wasn't convinced that I could handle going vegan, but I did decide to go vegetarian. Later that week, I went out with some friends, including the one who had given me the pamphlet, to an Eat'n Park for lunch. (I don't know why she came, in retrospect... they are not very vegan friendly!)

When I ordered the veggie burger, everyone asked if I had decided to go vegetarian. When I said yes, my vegan friend asked, "why not vegan?" I explained that, even though I could relate to the argument for veganism, I thought it would be too hard to give up all animal products all at once, so I wanted to take baby steps. She said, "why not try it for a week?" I said, "OK, can I finish this milkshake?"

Well, much like with Sharon, a week turned into a month, and now I've just hit thirteen years. (I don't remember the exact date I decided to go vegan, but it was sometime in September 1996.) The advice to just try it for a week has stuck with me, and it's something I tell anyone who is on the fence about going vegan or vegetarian (Sharon included!) More often than not, once you start, you realize it's not too hard to keep going.

Unfortunately, none of the college friends I knew kept it up over the years. Some went back to dairy after just two years, including the one who gave me the "Why Vegan?" pamphlet in the first place. A lot of it came down to peer pressure in the end. I think this highlights the importance of having a environment of supportive people who make it feel less weird and more exciting to be vegan. I probably could not have started without those friends, and it's really a shame that as our social circle drifted apart, most of the members found it hard to maintain their commitment to vegan principles without the support network.

Andria said...

I read "Skinny Bitch" under the misconception that it was a "diet" book and that was the beginning of the end for me.

There are a couple of personal stories on my new site - - I would love to add yours if you'd like!

joylangtry said...

I've been mostly vegan for 2 years now, and I say "mostly" in reference to the "Not Vegan Enough" post and ensuing discussion. Part of my strategy when making the transition was to allow myself a future cheat (some sort of shellfish) for psychological purposes. That was a long time ago and the result was positive. When I did eventually try eating shrimp after several months of otherwise total vegan eating, it grossed me out and made me feel nauseous, effectively cementing my commitment to the change.

But, that's jumping ahead a bit.

I've been seeking more conscious living in all aspects of my life, for most of my life. I'd always been attracted to the idea of vegetarianism, but thought it would be too difficult to implement. I had to strongly dissociate from the source of my meat, though. I do love animals, and somehow managed to shut down the awareness of what I was contributing to.

In August, 2007, I read a review of "The China Study", and immediately bought and read it. Then I urged my husband to read it. We decided to do a 30 day vegan trial based on the diet in "Eat to Live", and during that time I continued reading as much about the topic as I could, including "The Food Revolution", "Mad Cowboy", etc.

We were both amazed by how good we felt after about 3 weeks, and agreed to stick with it, except for the above-mentioned planned cheat.

Frankly, we did it for completely selfish reasons, but I honestly believe that is a great way to begin. As I enjoyed and assimilated my physical changes, I also felt more peaceful, less conflicted, and am able to enjoy life a lot more now.

That whole pre-planned cheat was a strategy I used when trying to quit smoking... I struggled with that for years, and when I finally just told myself that I was just not going to smoke today, and would decide about tomorrow when it got here, I finally did it. In going vegan, I knew I didn't need meat or dairy ever again, but I couldn't bear to tell myself that I would never eat Lobster or Shrimp again. So, I didn't tell myself that. But I sure have no desire for those things at all any more.

Sharon Troy said...

Thanks, everyone for your comments. Lindsay and Andria I added your sites to my blogroll.

Andria, I'd be happy to have you add my story to your site. Let me know if you need any more info from me, otherwise you can re-post.

Joy, yes, sounds like some people would not call us vegans which seems pretty myopic. But anyway, I enjoyed your story and it sounds like we've had similar paths. I think because we can both identify as possible who initially were afraid veganism would be too hard, we empathize with people who have "cheated" early on in adopting the lifestyle. I find it only gets easier as time goes on, so the idea that someone would no longer be allowed to be vegan after years of never cheating is a little absurd to me.

Anyway, not to highjack this thread... I'm just losing my patience with the other one ;-)

Anonymous said...

Sharon, I will post your story this week! Thanks so much.

By the way, I skimmed the thread you're speaking of and I agree with you. I'll add my comments.

shelby h.k. said...

long story short, i dated a guy my freshman year of college who was vegetarian and that got my mind thinking veg. but i didn't officially go vegetarian until 2007. it was a long process because i started out researching the vegetarian lifestyle and kept reading that vegetarianism was a stepping stone to veganism. i decided to go vegan mid-summer with the support of a friend who did the same. plus, i watched several animal cruelty docs and had multiple panic attacks! i'm an animal lover and cannot imagine putting a living creature through such horrendous things just to eat it, digest it, and shit it out (sorry to be graphic!).

my mother had also been a vegetarian for 20 years, and although she isn't anymore it must've been pre-programmed in my brain, haha.

i also rarely ate red meat and figured losing chicken, fish and eggs would be simple.

it's so fun creating new vegan dishes, it feels like i'm discovering a new dish, as opposed to throwing together a turkey sandwich. plus everything tastes better!

i can't lie though, it's definitely been off and on since 07. for the past few months i've been strictly vegan and incorporating more fruits and veggies into my diet (yes, i'm a junk-food vegan, yeck!). i've never been happier!