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February 6, 2008

No, I didn’t make that word up.

I was sitting down to a dinner of vegan ribs, sweet potatoes and sauteed spinach last night when it dawned on my that I’ve now been vegan for two years. It seems an impossibly short time considering how integrated veganism is with my life at this point. I almost never look at food labels anymore. I can generally eye a shoe and tell if it has real leather on it and I’ve worn out and thrown away my old wool coat and leather boots.

I didn’t really have a ‘journey’ to veganism. I thought it absolutely ridiculous when I was younger. I had a few vegan aquaintances and I was generally respectful to their faces, but secretly thought they were way too extreme. Vegetarians were missing out, I thought, but vegans were just masochists. I suspected they either liked the attention their diet got them or that they were hiding eating disorders or that they just didn’t like food. I mean, I loved animals, but obviously these people had never actually seen a chicken or they would know, as I did, that these animals were stupid and really only good for being eaten.

I had actually ‘tried’ to be a vegetarian. I had decided a fews years previously that giving up meat might help me lose weight, but I didn’t last a week. Meat had become forbidden food and nothing was more tempting than that. I hadn’t considered it again.

Really, my veganism started with my getting a puppy. I already had one dog, Paddy, and had decided to adopt another one as a companion to her and because I adore dogs. I hadn’t meant to get a puppy, but when I first met Biscuit (my younger dog) it was an instant connection. I had to take her home. Biscuit was, and is, an incredibly hyper and spastic dog. Before she grew into her full size, everyone thought she must have some jack russell in her because her level of spazz was so incredibly high. Not two weeks after first coming home, she jumped off a landing and broke her leg.

It was terrible. I got her to the vet quickly and they set the leg, but it shook me. She was so small and she had been in so much pain. She had laid on the doggy bed whimpering and trying to move her broken leg while I looked up 24 hour vets and it just destroyed me.

A few weeks after, while she was hopping around in an adorable little cast, I started reading “Harvest for Hope” by Jane Goodall. I don’t remember why the book caught my eye, but I was reading it when I came across this quote at the beginning of a chapter:

The question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer? – Jeremy Bentham

As much as I hate to admit to being so affected by a tiny quote, it was like a bolt of lightning ripping through me. Biscuit was laying on my lap and I thought about how terrible it was when she was hurt. I thought about what I knew of factory farming methods and how animals were slaughtered. All my old arguments. That animals were dumb. That it was natural to eat them. All of it was suddenly reframed. Dumb or not. Loving or not. Cute or not. They were no different from my beloved dog in their capacity to experience pain.

I decided right then to become vegan. Within a week, my kitchen was free of animal products and I had my first vegan cookbook. I haven’t looked back.

So yesterday was the two year anniversary of that day and I was thinking that I should talk about how positive veganism has been for my life on this blog. I’ve been pretty critical of the vegan movement in previous posts and while I still feel that way, veganism, on a personal level, has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life.

Veganism changed my relationship with food.

It seems counter-intuitive to talk about what most people see as an extremely restrictive way of eating as being ‘healing’ but that’s how it worked for me. Going vegan was like being thrown into a totally foreign culture where I didn’t recognize 90% of the food. I had never cooked a brussel sprout or a sweet potato much less tempeh and seitan. Focused so completely on learning and exploration, I was like a child again. Discovering new tastes and textures was filled with delight for me and that delight never went away.

Veganism also stopped most of my obsessive calorie counting. When I first went vegan I had two concerns: 1) Getting enough nutrients and 2) Avoiding animal products. Now, I fully understand with the second one that constant label reading for ingredients looks (and for some people can act) just like obsessive calorie counting. But for me, while it did replace calorie counting for a time, when I had my bearings and didn’t need to look at ingredients, I didn’t ever get back into the habit of checking the calorie and fat content of food.

The focus on nutrition also changed the way I thought about food. In order to assuage my mother’s worry that I was going to develop terrible diseases due to nutritional deficiency, I read books about vegan nutrition that broke down all the nutrients we need, what they do in the body and which foods contain them. I had only ever read about nutrition in a dieting context and learning about nutrition in a food-positive context really ignited a fascination and respect for how our bodies use food.

Veganism is also responsible for my learning to cook. Oh I could feed myself before that, but I didn’t know how to just take stuff out of the fridge or pantry and create a meal with it. I didn’t know how different spices and herbs complemented each other. I cooked with the same ingredients and flavors that I had grown up with and becoming vegan made that impossible. I love to cook now in a way that I’m not sure I ever would have if I was still an omnivore.

Veganism fundamentally changed my relationship with animals.

One way I’ve heard other vegans put this is that the walls separating animals come down when you make that paradigm shift. It’s kind of what it feels like. I stopped looking at animals through the lens of my own interests and stopped basing their worth on comparisons to humanity. Many people accuse vegans of romanticizing animals, but it’s not that I suddenly believed chickens thought and felt the same way humans do, it’s that the way chickens ‘think’ and feel became just as important to me as the way my dogs feel. And while this will sound sappy, it opened me up to whole worlds that I hadn’t really seen before. I think this quote really says it best.

“We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature, and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err, and greatly err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.” – Henry Beston, The Outermost House, 1928

And to end, a clip from the movie Earthlings which I only ever managed to watch once and even then I covered my eyes – but this clip is free of any sad or disturbing images.

  1. February 6, 2008 12:40 pm

    Happy anniversary! And awesome post.

  2. February 6, 2008 12:52 pm

    Happy veganniversary! My third is coming up in late May. I know what you mean about walls coming down – where before I was just apathetic because “they aren’t like us, the sophisticated species”, here I began to look, not at differences, but at similarities.

  3. pennylane permalink
    February 6, 2008 1:41 pm

    Thanks for sharing your story (and the rib recipe). Those darn dogs are diabolical, eh? I’m always blown away by how much I can learn from their differences from me, it reminds me that my experience is so very limited. I feel like I learn something new about them (and about myself through them) every day.

  4. kira permalink
    February 6, 2008 2:42 pm

    Great post! Apologies if you already have a post up about this, but I’m hoping you can recommend some good, basic vegan cookbooks and/or nutritional guides. I’ve been mostly vegetarian for a while now, but I still use a lot of dairy and I’m about to move in with my vegan boyfriend. I’d like to broaden my vegan repertoire – I already do a lot of Indian and Thai cooking which is mostly vegan, but when it comes to vegan baking, especially, I’m at a loss. Thanks! 🙂

  5. February 6, 2008 4:04 pm

    I think The joy of vegan baking is probably the absolute best resource for vegan bakers. She’s great about teaching why techniques work so it’s helped me when trying to create my own recipes.

    Blogs are a great source of general recipes. (I keep meaning to update my blogroll.) But if you’re looking for a book either “Veganomicon” or “Vegan with a vengeance” are always top on my list.

  6. lillian64 permalink
    February 20, 2008 9:29 pm

    Wonderful. My stepdaughter has been vegan over a year. I’ve been making vegan meals for the family. I still see myself as vegetarian not vegan. I don’t feel the need to eat eggs or dairy, but I’m not against doing so occasionally. Not that a read labels, to keep the house vegan, I don’t have much opportunity to eat animal products or do I miss them. I’ve been vegetarian for 13 years. My stepdaughter who is now 15 has been vegetarian since she was two. It’s amazing that things that were once food; now, bare no resemblance to food in my mind.

  7. hotsauce permalink
    February 21, 2008 3:49 am

    thank you! this is lovely. it’s so nice to hear someone write about this in such a positive way. far too many people think that being a vegetarian or vegan is always a mask for something. in my case at least, the one leave i took from being a vegetarian during my nearly 17 years of it was during the low-carb nonsense when my f’d’up little head thought i was fat because i ate too many carbs as a vegetarian. my head’s back where i like it now.

    my reasons for going back began after reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma and having the same kind of moment you had. i am, however, probably totally at fault for romanticizing animals : )

    kira – i think Becoming Vegan is a good resource. i have the vegetarian version and thought it was very helpful for nutrition info. they also have what i think is a really good section on social issues (e.g., what to do/say when people give you shit for it). there’s a lot of misinformation out there, and if you educate yourself, you’ll be better able to have something to say to “but where do you get your calcium!?”

  8. Denise permalink
    February 21, 2008 9:09 am

    I, too, struggle with both loving and eating animals. I’ve worked at a humane society and I’ve taken part in rescues. I have a small herd of pets of my own. About six months ago, feeling horribly guilty about eating meat, I decided to arbitrarily stop eating four-legged animals. I still eat poultry and fish, though. I’m another victim of the low-carb mentality and I worry about getting my protein…Attrice, has your diet affected your energy level or immune functioning, and if so, how? Thanks for a very inspirational post!

  9. February 21, 2008 11:21 am


    I’ve known a couple of people who started eating meat after becoming convinced that a veggie diet was making them fat. When society gets swept up in a “diet revolution!”, it can be hard to resist. I wasn’t vegan when the latest low-carb craze happened and I spent six months or so on South Beach. Looking back, the idea that I was scared to eat fruit seems utterly ridiculous, but there ya go.

    I second the rec for “Becoming Vegan.” It’s such a good resource and has so much information in it. I still consult it from time to time.

  10. February 21, 2008 11:32 am


    It could be hard to eat a very high protein diet as a vegan, but it’s very easy to meet your body’s protein needs. Recommendations from the world health organization puts protein intake at 10-15% of total calories. My latest nutritional profile (have to do them for class) puts my intake around 13-17% most days and I don’t eat a lot of soy products or fake meat.

    Well, results will vary from person to person of course, but I have a lot more energy as a vegan than I did as an omnivore. Part of it is that my fruit and veg intake increased by leaps and bounds when I went vegan although I’ve also heard some people say that the less work your digestive system has to do in terms of breaking down a lot of animal products can help with energy. I have no idea if the last part is true or not – I don’t know enough about how it all works.

    I’ve never been someone who got sick a lot anyway, but I’ve only had two colds since becoming vegan. But I honestly can’t remember how often I got sick before so I can’t really compare.

  11. lillian64 permalink
    February 22, 2008 4:15 pm

    I can. I had strep throat, a sinus infection and an ear infection the year before I became vegetarian. Since I’ve been vegetarian all I get is sore throats. I have never been really sick.

  12. Desdemona permalink
    February 25, 2008 3:12 pm

    This is an awesome post, and the Earthlings clip was a truly inspired (and inspiring) choice. Thanks for sharing and giving voice to all the ways being vegan improves LIFE, both animal and human!

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