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.