Going veg*n was the best mistake I’ve ever made, an accident that has affected every aspect of my life in a purely positive way. I never, ever thought this would happen to me. It was certainly never my intent. So, I praise serendipity. This is my story.
I was raised omnivorous, and although I was always an avid animal lover, I never gave much thought to the inherent contradiction of my diet. As I matured I became interested in nutrition, and started eating a less processed, more whole foods diet. Thanks to a rare disinterest in cheese and a lactose intolerant roommate who got me swilling soymilk in my morning coffee, I had almost entirely omitted overt dairy by my mid twenties. Of course, I smoked like a fish and I drank like a chimney, but c’mon, it was college! I still ate ‘better’ than everyone around me.
In college I studied biology and conducted research in parasitology. No mincing words here: I participated in animal testing. I personally trapped, euthanized, and dissected dozens, if not hundreds, of fishes. I suffered horrible nightmares about what I was doing to those fish, but I told myself that I was following standard protocol, and that there was no suffering. And it was not without purpose. Our findings are in queue for publication, and have significantly affected the field of parasite ecology. I am still quite proud of my contribution to science.
I had wrestled with my feelings about animal testing and vivisection at the beginning of my stint in the lab, and had decided I fell ‘on the side of Science’. Once I had drawn that line, my brain shut down around the issue. I used my imaginary line to justify not just animal testing, but my omnivory as well. It’s strange, because in college I was very politically engaged, an activist in fact. I fought for social justice, I marched for peace, I petitioned for the right to choose, and I rallied for marriage equality. But animal rights causes, all around me and available for participation, were something I always avoided. I consider myself a fairly open-minded individual, and so looking back at my lifestyle choice is a bit dismaying. In retrospect I recognize my absolute and essential disconnect in regards to behavior and diet. My own history is proof that our moral-override can be fearsome powerful, when acting in the name of convention and convenience. Now, I try to remember this when navigating conversations with non-vegans. I recall my own past, and use it to ground me in humility, to stimulate my sensitivity.
Fast forward a few years: post graduation, post engagement, post move to Portland, and my partner and I were quitting smoking. This miserable, gut-wrenching process, I would not wish on my own worst enemy (if I had one, that is). It took an entire year of my life to disentangle myself from cigarettes, and for a whole year that’s pretty much all I could focus on. Like so many, I used food as a coping mechanism. Hey, it works! But food-as-medicine meant a lot of peanut m & ms, a lot of pepperoni pizzas, and more midnight donut runs than I care to admit. Emerging from the other side of that year I was a non-smoker, true, but I also felt as though I had poisoned myself from the inside out. It was time to clean up my eating act, and to facilitate this, I planned a cleanse. A week long, ‘vegan cleanse’.
In my most candid moments, I had always conceded the ethical superiority of a vegan lifestyle, because I could not with intellectual honesty argue otherwise. There is just no denying the extreme wastefulness, the ecological devastation, the human hunger impact, the environmental destruction and the grievous misallocation of resources associated with the meat and dairy industries. I could admit to all of this, but somehow still maintain my cognitive dissonance. I told myself it was an impossible life choice, debilitating in its restriction and malnourishing without constant attention. I was an adventurous epicurean, a ‘foodie’, and much too exciting for rigorous meal planning. Veganism was just not practical, man.
That is of course, until I tried it. And it was easy. It was really just so easy. Not just easy, but to my surprise, it was rather . . . delightful. And so in that first week it became very clear to me that, if it really was so effortless (it is), and so pleasurable (oh yes), then it would be morally incorrect of me NOT to go vegan. And I thought, “Damn, I can’t ‘un-know’ this”. There was only one way that I could proceed while keeping my integrity intact.
On my list of reasons to go vegan, animal rights was at the very bottom, and I decided to give the lifestyle a ‘trial’ period of 6 months. And because I am a scientist to my very core, I approached my veg*nism as such – with exhaustive research and experimentation (kitchen, that is). I scoured discussion forums all over the Internet, I read literature including Skinny Bitch, I watched documentaries including Earthlings, and I listened to the Vegan Freak and Food For Thought podcasts. Very quickly, and admittedly unexpectedly, a new and beautiful compassion began awakening inside of me. I was moved – quite shaken – by a blossom of empathy that seemed to fill me in a place that I hadn’t even realized was empty. I am not kidding when I say that within just a few short weeks, I was a changed person. I knew I could never go back.
The longer that you live without contributing to the suffering of innocents, the stranger and more violent an act it seems. These days I could no more imagine eating meat or milk than I could imagine beating my dog. I see the world differently, and I move through the world differently as well. I experience mental clarity, bodily energy, physical ‘lightness’, and emotional stability. I have big healthy poops! (don’t be squeamish, you cannot talk about health without talking about poop) I am noticeably happier, internally derived happiness. I attribute all of these changes to my veg*n lifestyle. It is difficult to describe this feeling without sounding like an Evangelical kool-aid sipper, so you’ll just have to trust my intellectualism. This choice is unparalleled in its positivity.