You may remember that I wrote a post on becoming vegetarian. I became vegetarian about 10 weeks ago. It was amazingly simple for me to do. Recently, I decided to take what I consider for me to be the next natural step in my choice: veganism.
Many people don’t really know what vegetarianism is, let alone veganism. As a vegetarian, I chose not to eat meat–and this included not only red meat, but chicken and fish as well. Veganism is all that, plus a choice not to eat any product that was made from an animal as well. This includes dairy–cheese, milk, butter, yogurt, etc. The American Vegan Society suggests that veganism is more than just a way of eating: “Veganism is compassion in action. It is a philosophy, diet, and lifestyle.” This means vegans not only eat animal-free diets, they live a lifestyle that avoids any product that contains the life of animals. This is my quick description of veganism for the purposes of this post; you can find out more from the American Vegan Society if you are interested.
Why I Became Vegetarian
It’s a simple two-component reason for why I chose veganism: compassion for animals, and compassion for my own body, my health.
It started as compassion for animals. I have always been a lover of animals, ever since I can remember. It was as a teenager I started feeling “off” about eating meat. But this “feeling” I had was not a valued one in my community, where farming and meat-eating were a way of life. I didn’t know anyone who was a vegetarian, and definitely no vegans, and so, I simply kept these feelings to myself. At that time, I was too meek to consider becoming a vegetarian–this would mean doing something that would be laughed at by my family–if even my parents at that time would have allowed me to do it. It was easier to continue eating meat. Not to mention, back then I still loved fried chicken and pepperoni.
But this compassion for animals was not one I could ignore. If I went by a farm where cows were kept, I would often look at them from the road, their laid-back way of standing around in the pasture, tails flicking, eyes looking gently toward me. I’ve never seen a more sensitive set of eyes than those on a cow. Each time I saw a farm animal, whether a cow, pig, goat, chicken, I had a sense of guilt. But it was always something I could set aside when I was eating my pizza with pepperoni.
I have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). This basically means I get a lot of stomach upsets, bloating, gas, diarrhea or constipation, etc. I also have lactose intolerance. When I was in basic training for the Air Force, my friends called me stealth bomber. You can imagine why.
With these two things, animal fat and dairy products really aggravate my stomach. After eating pizza with pepperoni, I could go from my skinny flat stomach to looking five months pregnant, my stomach would be so distended. You might often find me on my bed (or the toilet) in a lot of stomach pain. But I didn’t stop eating those things for myself. Because I loved animal fat and especially cheese! I ate cheese everyday! Crazy. I know.
Somehow, when I decided to go vegetarian, I did it out of recognition for animals, but it ended up helping me to change my diet for the better. Before, if I told myself I would stop eating all the crap, greasy food I so loved, I would never succeed. I had endured so many stomach-aches, it was a normal way of living for me. I had no will-power over the crap, greasy food that I loved, regardless of my deeply-hidden moral agenda against it. But, when I started allowing my moral agenda concerning meat-eating take a voice in my life, I was able to stop eating meat (and all the grease that went along with that), because I wasn’t doing it for myself, I was doing it for a bigger reason. I was doing it for the animals.
And my stomach started feeling better.
Why I Became Vegan
As a vegetarian, I started feeling happier about who I was as a person. I started feeling happier. I was finally starting to allow my own conscience to have a voice in my life, and it was incredible. I was (and still am) very concerned that I would get all the right nutrients in my diet, and that I would have answers for people when they asked me about this new choice. So I started doing a lot of reading and looking at information online. I had joined a LinkedIn group called Creative Professionals for the Welfare of Animals, and through this, I saw a response to a post that intrigued me. A woman had posted about eating meat that was from animals who had been treated humanely in their life. A man had responded to her, providing her a link to more information about why eating meat, no matter how it got to your plate, was not an option for those who wish to live compassionately to animals. I knew veganism was in my future, but I didn’t know when or how. I wanted to be a vegan. But I didn’t know if I had what it took to do it. So I wrote a response to this guy’s recommendation on LinkedIn.
This man was Robert Grillo a communications professional who is also the founder of an organization called Free From Harm, which provides information about veganism, and reveals truths about the treatment of animals, especially farm animals. He provided me with links to several things that I could watch or read to learn more about veganism, the exploitation of farm animals, and general health for vegans. He also suggested alternatives to butter and cheese (which were two of my weaknesses), and was just an all-around helpful person on this subject. Understandably so; you will see from his Free From Harm website that this is a topic on which he is very passionate.
I watched one of the videos he provided, a talk by a wonderful woman named Colleen Patrick Goudreau. I started “getting it.” But I wanted more information. I started reading Colleen’s website, the Free From Harm blog, as well as numerous other blogs and articles. Then I ordered the book called Skinny Bitch. With all this information, it was no longer a matter of could I do it, but when would I do it. I woke up one day, and I knew it was the end of my vegetarianism, and a new journey into veganism.
The Unexpected Relief, Connection, and Peace
As I said, when I became a vegetarian, I had this sense of joy. But when I became vegan this past week, something even more intense has started happening to me. The first thing I can finally put my finger on is this sense of relief. It’s almost like there was this life-long need to be vegan, and it wasn’t till now that I recognized it and acted on it. I am finally paying FULL attention to the need to be compassionate to all animals, and not just the cute cuddly ones we have as pets. I have always said I love animals. Now I am finally acting on that love. I no longer feel a sense of guilt when I see farm animals, or any animal, for that matter. Instead, I am feeling this incredible sense of connection and peace. Connection because there is not this wall of guilt between me and the animal. Peace because now I can love them without the guilt, and peace because now we (animals and I) can truly live in peace. This feels like who I am. And so I feel I am also connecting with myself.
I’m feeling better and better. Without the lactose, I am noticing an even more improved sense of lightness in my stomach. It is not nearly as often bloated, though, a vegan can still eat crappy too (which I will show you what I did today in a later post to prove this). And this is just the beginning. I am not a perfect vegan. I am weeding things out as I learn about them. I’m taking this in stride. I still have a little fear that I will go back to my original way of eating, but I chalk that up to my usual self-doubt. In the meantime, I am enjoying this journey. I am learning a lot about vegan nutrition and nutrition in general. I’m learning a lot about myself. And I’m learning a lot about the world. Isn’t that what life is all about?