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.
Monday, September 21, 2009
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!
Posted by Sharon at 12:16 PM