“You don’t eat meat?” I looked up from the toy horses I was playing with, my eyes wide.
“No, we don’t,” my aunt and uncle told me.
My ten year old brain couldn’t imagine a diet without meat. “But, don’t you need meat?” I wondered. Convinced that this was the case, I barreled on, “What if I disguised a hamburger as a tomato and made you eat it?”
“Well that would be mean,” my uncle replied. “I don’t want to eat animals, why would you want to make me?”
“Cuz you have to eat meat!” I insisted.
I was ten. I was a lifelong animal lover, but I also somehow thought that it was just normal for certain animals to be killed for food. They were living creatures but also, innately, a food item. Perhaps I failed to fully grasp what killing is. I certainly had no idea about the reality of factory farmed meat, let alone the dairy and egg industries.
I’m not going to dignify arguments against veganism with a response. All I’ll say is, if you can live a life without partaking the product of animal suffering and death, why wouldn’t you? If you had the option to live a fully healthy life with a variety of food options and never consume an animal product, why wouldn’t you choose to? Why not live doing as little harm as possible?
I’ve been eating vegan since October (except for the moment when, in the depths of a road-trip-induced panic attack, I scarfed down an Arby’s beef and cheddar which I am fully aware is the grossest thing ever. However it does prove a point: when you think you’re craving meat and cheese, your body either simply wants protein which you can get from plant sources, or you’re craving the addictive chemical substances that fill fast food. Or you want the taste and again, perfectly viable vegan alternatives are available). I don’t regret it. I can’t imagine going back. I’ve been vegetarian for three and a half years and to be completely honest, meat doesn’t even register as food anymore.
I’m a ridiculously empathetic person.
Some of the women in my suite sophomore year of college had a beta fish. They kept it in a tiny glass cylinder. And looking at that fish, sadly swimming in tight circles, hurt my heart. When the fish died, I thought (but didn’t say), well of course. You shouldn’t have kept a fish in less than a cubic foot of water anyway.
So when I read about animals in factory farms, and saw pictures. I was immediately nauseated.
Animals aren’t supposed to be confined. I’m even dreading moving my cat to a tiny New York City apartment. It just doesn’t seem right to artificially restrict an animal’s territory.
Animals have minds. Those minds don’t work the same as ours do, but that doesn’t make an animal’s pain any less valid. When an animal is kept confined for the duration of it’s life then marched off to slaughter, it’s cruel.
If we saw someone treating a pet the way animals in factory farms are treated, we wouldn’t think twice about calling the proper authorities and having that pet taken away. Yet we eat the products of factory farms all the time. Why? Because dogs are cuter than cows? Who decides that?
I don’t want to contribute to a system that systematically, needlessly tortures and kills massive populations of animals every year.
“I need meat,” my brother announced, waving a turkey leg in my face. “I’m an athlete!”
“There are plenty of vegetarian and vegan athletes,” I said, trying to ignore the shredded muscle, the flap of skin hanging off the bone as it whizzed past my nose.
“Show me a list!” he demanded.
“I don’t know, google it!” I shot back.
I try not to make too many comments, but later, I couldn’t help but say something when I saw him get out the frying pan and start constructing one of his daily triple egg and cheese sandwiches.
“You know that’s nearly three times the cholesterol you should consume today.”
“I need the protein!” he insisted.
Later of course I learned that an egg contains less protein than a healthy serving of beans, tofu, even soy milk, all of which do not contain the cholesterol. At the time I just shrugged. “It’s your arteries that are getting clogged.”
It breaks my heart that there are countless animals brought into this world who never experience anything other than suffering.
It breaks my heart that there are people on this earth who go hungry. Sometimes they go hungry because of political maneuvering, capitalist control of resources creating food deserts, the fact that social welfare programs are always underfunded. On a more global scale, they are going hungry because we waste resources. We are willing to produce meat in a wildly inefficient way while allowing famine to rage unchecked in other parts of the world.
It breaks my heart that we are annihilating the environment because we love cheeseburgers.
It breaks my heart that little children are being taught it’s ok to love animals and to eat them too, brainwashed to normalize the consumption of animal products before they even have a choice.
“What book are you reading?” she asked me.
I showed her the cover. Peter Singer’s “The Ethics of What We Eat.” “It’s for Ethics.”
“Oh,” she laughed. “You’re going to be a vegetarian then.”
“No I’m not,” I said, annoyed at her certainty about my future frame of mind.
Less than a semester later, of course, I was going vegetarian. I make the self-deprecating joke that I shortsightedly decided to be vegetarian one week before Thanksgiving, but considering there are always so many delicious side dishes at Thanksgiving, I didn’t even miss the turkey.
I still remember my last meal as a non-vegetarian. Barbecue ribs. I still love barbecue sauce but the memory of the meat makes me vaguely ill.
Let me be honest: I wasn’t a great vegetarian. I ate fish sometimes. I would eat meat in hospitality situations if it wasn’t really avoidable, though people were usually accommodating. And I couldn’t pass up the traditional secret family recipe chicken at the reunion, could I?
Being full on vegan makes it mentally easier to stick with my resolution. I’m not giving myself any wiggle room. I’m not being a hypocrite (and I knew, in the back of my mind, that being only vegetarian was hypocritical. If you hate animal torture, you should not eat dairy).
And in case you’re wondering, I’ve been more active and athletic as a vegan than I was ever able to manage at any other point in my life. Maybe because I feel so much healthier and more energetic now.
I was so obviously the odd one out when I met my partner’s family at Thanksgiving. My flaming red hair, my Northern accent, and the fact that I was another one of “those vay-guns.” Anxious to make a good impression, I’d talked my partner into helping me spend the morning making vegan stuffed mushrooms with which to win his family over.
They embraced me with open arms of course, and they also embraced the mushrooms.
“These are delicious!” “Those mushrooms are so good!” “I’m gonna have to have another three…or five.”
And I smiled to myself. I once earnestly joked about disguising meat as a tomato to force vegetarians to get their protein. And now I’m getting meat and cheese eaters to happily devour entirely plant-based food.
I’ve come a long way.