I began my vegan journey in 2000. During my first year in college, I became pesco-vegetarian: I cut out all meat except for fish. However, my diet was centered on pasta, bread, cheese, and ice cream.
Finally, in 2003, I really seriously looked at the weight I had gained in college (far too much), and my inability to run more than a mile without being totally out of breath, even though I had formally been a multi-sport athlete. I decided that I really needed a change in diet. I found Marilu Henner’s book The 30-day Total Health Makeover and started to follow it. The huge shift that Henner helped me make was away from dairy and sugar. There was NO dairy on this diet, and no refined sugars. In two weeks, I had lost 10 pounds, my cystic acne had started to clear up, and I found myself craving apples and oranges instead of cookies and candy. I was still eating fish (which was a huge part of Marilu’s plan) and the occasional egg, but I knew I was on the right path to better health.
As part of my own total health make-over, I started to research vegan recipes (since I was cutting out dairy). In the process, I started to read more about animal rights and the slaughterhouse industry. I felt good about myself because I wasn’t eating land animals, but somehow I managed to tune out all the harm I was causing by eating fish and eggs (and the occasional dairy, when I cheated on my diet). I continued to eat this way for several years, while at the same time I watched my weight steadily climb as more and more dairy crept into my diet.
After moving to Boston in 2007, I resolved to try again to be dairy-free, and I was better about it. I didn’t eat cheese at home, although I would occasionally when out with other people. I still ate fish since I considered it healthy, and at this point for me, being vegan was a health issue, not an animal rights or social justice issue.
But then, in my search for cooking classes, I stumbled upon Colleen Patrick-Goudreau’s website and, more importantly, her podcast Food for Thought. I can honestly say this changed my life. This podcast not only gave me the cooking tips I needed to help eat more healthfully and deliciously, but it also gave me the information I had been avoiding about how the dairy industry works, how the egg industry works, and how being vegan was about way more than health. On March 1, 2009, I became vegan for real.
While I still tout all the health benefits of going vegan, it was really realizing the social, environmental, and ethical issues surrounding food that pushed me to truly become vegan and not just dairy-and-land-animal-free. It is one thing to know that eating something is bad for you and cutting back on it (such as cookies, which I still could cut back on more). If something is just bad for you, it is much easier to justify having it once in a while. But when I realized what it meant for me to eat dairy in any form, what it meant exploit a mother (whether in human or cow form), what it meant for the environment, I simply did not want to be part of that system any more. Since I have made that switch, I have been a much happier and healthier person. I never feel deprived. In fact, when people ask “what do you eat,” I have a hard time answering because I eat (and enjoy) so much! I don’t even know where to start. Since becoming vegan I enjoyed two healthy and easy vegan pregnancies, I have a thriving vegan son and daughter, and I feel good knowing that no animals were harmed in the making of our meals.
I often wonder what my children’s vegan journey will be like. Unlike me, they have started their lives being vegan. However, since we still live in a non-vegan world, they are still learning to navigate the world as vegans, and especially as vegan children. My son will explain to other children (and their parents) that “we don’t eat animals” which seems to satisfy most people. He has gotten confused about the difference between meat and dairy (we couldn’t have cupcakes at a birthday party; he asked “What kind of animal is in those?”). He also has been known to tease his grandparents by saying they must be cows since they drink cow’s milk. As I watch these little moments, I appreciate their cuteness, but I also see them as part of his developing vegan awareness. At some point, my son and daughter will need to make a decision for themselves about being vegan. I wouldn’t be surprised if they both try meat and/or cheese at some point (just to see what all the fuss is about). My hope is that it doesn’t make them violently ill (although I think a tummy ache would be expected!). My other hope is that my husband and I can continue to teach them compassion for all creatures—human and animal—and that this is the lesson that will stick with them through their whole lives, even if they stray from the vegan path in an effort to find their own compassionate selves.
Posted in Family Life