Update (Feb 2014): I still feel strongly about animal rights, but I care more about myself and humanity at large. I’ve stopped calling myself vegan (unless forced to describe my diet). I’ve never felt a part of the veg*n community and the more I read veg*n media the more I am turned off, particularly by the rampant pseudoscience. That said, I still don’t consume animal products if I can help it. And by that I mean, I sometimes consume animal products (during active travel, for example), even if it’s rare.
Although I’ve written about veganism here and there (Stress-Free Vegan Travel) I’ve never discussed it at length. I’m writing about it today because I’m launching a new vegan site for non-vegans. How does that work? Read on …
I also get tons of questions from non-vegans as to why I’m vegan so here’s the skinny (double entendre!).
Over the years my thoughts have changed tremendously. In the beginning I wanted everybody to be vegan. Save the animals, save the planet, save yourselves! Mostly it was save the animals because if air quality and waistlines are any indication we’ve already ruined the planet and ourselves.
Catalyst #1: A Girl
It all began when I was 19 and dated a vegetarian. I’d never been exposed to that culture before. In actuality, I don’t think I ever met a single vegetarian in my previous 19 years of living. And I was a staunch meat eater. “I need my protein! It’s natural! We have evolved to eat lots of animal products. This is healthy.” Sad misinformation, which I still hear to this day.
And so I began incorporating more vegetarian meals into my diet. Some of it I didn’t like at all (most veggie burgers). Some of it I loved (lots of veggies!). Some I was surprised about (Oreos are vegan).
Note: There is actually a lot of accidental veg*an food. Most of it is junk food, of course. Note #2: when you see “veg*an” it means vegan or vegetarian.
Over the next few years, while I still wasn’t veg*an, I came to appreciate it more and more. While I didn’t necessarily like how certain organizations would go about spreading their message, I liked the general message. Whether we like it or not, factory farms are horrible. Factory farms are where you get most of your animal based foods unless you run your own little family farm. According to the WorldWatch Institute, as of 2006, 74 percent of the world’s poultry, 43 percent of beef, and 68 percent of eggs are produced in the diseased squalor of a factory farm. If you live in North America or Europe (and other “First World” areas) the numbers are much greater and increasing every year because we utilize small farming far less than less industrialized countries.
Knowing all of this, and seeing video of the torture, grossed me out.
Catalyst #2: Jessie The Cat
Finding a sick stray kitty after Hurricane Charley in 2004 may have been the biggest catalyst for my change. Here was a small cat who would’ve died if we (my girlfriend at the time and I) hadn’t intervened. I began feeling compassion for helpless living things more than ever. Why would I eat an animal that had to live in a tiny cage in its own filth and excrement before being hung upside down and slaughtered? It just didn’t make sense.
But I still did it.
I mostly didn’t cook with meat because raw meat always grossed me, but I still ate a lot of meat if I’d go out. Burgers, hot wings, and sliced beef sandwiches were a normal occurrence. And cheese on everything. (No milk though, because milk has been nothing more than putrid pus-ridden liquid for me since I was young. Although it was forced upon me for many years.)
The point: I would never eat Jessie and she was/is treated like a Queen. Why would I eat an animal that was treated like garbage? What made Jessie better than other animals besides the fact that she lived with me? Again, it didn’t make sense.
But there was still no big change. Sure I ate more veg*an meals than usual, but I was neither vegetarian or vegan. Until …
Catalyst #3: The 2008 NBA Finals & McDonald’s Cheeseburgers
What do the NBA Finals have to do with my going veg*an? A lot, actually.
My friend Kenny would have people over his house for the games. Each of us would choose a player and for every point he scored we’d have to do 5 pushups. Since I hated pushups and never had any upper body strength I’d choose a player who barely scored, like Kendrick Perkins.
So one game the stakes (steaks?! hehe) were raised. Every quarter whoever did the least pushups would have to eat a McDonald’s cheeseburger. I was fine with this. I actually liked how McDonald’s cheeseburgers tasted. (It was the onions.)
After the first quarter I ate my burger and did my pushups.
After the second quarter I ate my burger and did my pushups.
After the third quarter I ate my burger and did my pushups.
But I was starting to feel less than stellar. Eating garbage food and doing pushups (even if it’s only 15 or 20) doesn’t go well. But it continued …
After the fourth quarter I ate my burger and did my pushups.
I don’t think I made the declaration out loud, but right then I decided I was done with meat. I was grossed out beyond belief. It took years of being more and more grossed out to finally push me over the edge, and the combination of the garbage McDonald’s meat and pushups did the trick.
How I Did It
At the time I actually made the decision to go vegan, but there was a little issue at hand. I loved cheese. I get this a lot. “I can’t go vegan, I love cheese!” I know!
And I had a lot of food with cheese at my house. I couldn’t just throw it away. So over the next month or two I slowly made my way through all the food in my house that had animal products. Whether that was a jar of spaghetti sauce or frozen fetuccini alfredo (yuck!) it’s not respectful to the animal that died for it to just throw it in the trash. I ate it until there was nothing left in my cupboards or refrigerator that had animal products.
I haven’t looked back since.
But Wait, There’s More! (From Junk Food Vegan To Health Food Vegan)
I would say 98 out of 100 vegetarians I meet are junk food vegetarians. Everything with cheese and butter. Lots of soda. Lots of pre-packaged garbage. I have no problem with this because a lot of people don’t care much about their bodies. I’m appreciative of their willingness to sacrifice their health to save a few hundred animals every year by not eating them.
I would also say that at least half of the vegans I meet are junk food vegans. You’d be surprised how much vegan junk food there is out there. Veggie burgers, veggie wings, the aforementioned oreos. Lots and lots of trash. Again, I’m all for this. If it’s about saving the animals and the planet, veganism works well even when you’re treating your body like a garbage disposal. :)
In the beginning this is exactly the type of vegan I was. Lots of veggie burgers, lots of crap. I did eat a lot of veggies, more than ever, but it still wasn’t an extraordinarily healthy diet.
Then my cousin gave me the book The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted and the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss and Long-term Health and everything changed. I won’t get into the details, but if you’re interested about living a long healthy life this is a fascinating (and well-cited) read.
Almost immediately after reading The China Study I quit eating pre-packaged garbage and other junk vegan foods. I began cooking for myself more and more, which was a fun learning experience. I bought vegan cookbooks and searched for vegan recipes and just tried stuff out. It was an outstanding time of personal growth.
Note: I’m not saying I don’t eat any junk food. When I’m out and about and have to eat at a restaurant the options are usually limited to a veggie burger and a salad. I’ll take that no worries.
Why I Won’t Try To Force You To Give Up Meat
I know preaching the benefits of health or saving animals or the world doesn’t do much. Most people don’t care enough to make a massive change to their lifestyle. As easy as the change has been for me I will readily admit that it is a massive lifestyle change.
But small changes are easy and more people are willing to make small changes than big ones.
My goal is for small change scaled far and wide.
If you don’t eat meat for just one day per week it does a world of good (no pun intended). Not only will this small change result in massive change when it’s scaled, but it’s actually very easy.