Like many vegans, my motivation to stop eating meat and dairy initially stemmed from a concern for my own health. I was attracted by the prospect of losing weight.
Then I read Diet for a New America. Up until that moment, I had shied away from thinking about the animals. I convinced myself that the pink flesh wrapped tightly on those styrofoam rectangles and that chicken wing I ate at my favorite restaurant somehow, miraculously, didn’t come from an actual cow or chicken.
Delusional, I admit.
Reading DFNA forced me to consider what became for me the real reason I would go vegan and then stay vegan: the animals.
Now I know as I mentions words like slaughter and animal cruelty and factory farms, that many of you are getting that same look in your eyes that I see when I tell people the truth about why I decided to go vegan and ultimately, what made me stay vegan.
It’s always the same. You start to lose interest in what I’m saying. You shift from one foot to the other or rearrange yourself on your chair. You look away and nod. I see from your expression that you’re terribly uncomfortable with this discussion and you want it to stop. I get it.
You don’t want to think about animals being tortured for your food. I didn’t either. Heck, I spent a good 30 years of my life not wanting to think about it. I continued to eat animals even though I couldn’t even fathom for one second thinking about the lives they led up until the point they arrived on my plate or the other end of my fork.
Like most people, I’m sensitive to suffering. Witnessing an animal in any sort of pain sends me into a tailspin of sadness. But if I didn’t think about it too deeply, I could go ahead and eat fish and cheese and sometimes even have a bit of turkey. After all, it’s what virtually everybody I knew did.
Before I read DFNA, I met a real life vegan. Up until that point, I didn’t know anyone that didn’t eat meat. Richard worked with my husband Brian at a restaurant when we lived in Seattle. They bonded over a shared love of music. “Oh, also, he’s vegan. No meat, dairy or eggs. He doesn’t eat anything that comes from an animal.”
Wow, I thought. How could anyone not eat anything from an animal? No cheese, no milk. Wasn’t dairy in everything? It seemed virtually impossible to me. Impossible to go out to eat, impossible to socialize, impossible to get enough to eat. What do you say when someone hands you food that isn’t vegan?
I guess you tell them you’re vegan and you don’t eat that. Duh.
Richard intrigued me. I met him and then maybe saw him only a handful of times after that before we moved away. I’m not even sure we discussed being vegan. But he had a huge influence on me. He seemed so down to earth. So grounded. So comfortable in his beliefs and his choices. I even found out he frequently joined animals rights groups in picketing circuses and other companies that mistreated and abused animals.
Eventually, I had to be honest and admit the reason I hadn’t given up eating animals came down to one really, really silly reason: I was worried about what people would think. What would my family, friends and even my husband think? That I was judgmental? That I was annoying? What about Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners? Would I be ridiculed for not eating turkey?
I realized at some point that when you refuse to eat animal products of any kind it becomes much more than stating a simple dietary preference. It’s not like stating you’re gluten-free or allergic to peanuts. You’re really aligning yourself with an entire lifestyle that includes much more than just food.
Of course, making important life decisions based on what other people think isn’t exactly a recipe for success.
Fortunately, finally listening to that voice in my head and carefully considering what impact my food choices have on animals felt so much better than ignoring it. I now live a life much more in line with my values.
I don’t support cruelty to animals. I don’t care if it’s a chicken a cow or my beloved chocolate lab Frisco. Because there really is no difference.
Before I went vegan, I did support and pay for cruelty to animals. If you aren’t vegan, you do too. No matter how many cage-free eggs or grass-fed burgers you choose over conventional, factory farmed versions, you still support the slaughter of animals that feel pain and want to live as much as your beloved cat or dog.
If that doesn’t feel right to you, if reading that you’re supporting cruelty to animals upsets you, consider that you may not be living a life in line with your values. Then consider the reasons you justify eating meat. If it’s as silly as mine was, that I worried about what people would think, consider for a moment how crazy that is.
If, on the other hand, you really believe you need meat and dairy to be healthy, consider reading Diet for a New America. It was published in 1987. It’s still relevant.
Whatever other silly reason you’re still consuming any animal products, even if it’s “just cheese” or “only wild-caught fish,” can also be answered by reading that same book. Published in 1987. Still relevant.