This month is special to me this year because it marks my 20th meatless anniversary! In the summer of 1996, after my 14th birthday and before I began high school, I made the choice one night to stop consuming animals. My mother and I were home alone and she had made grilled chicken breasts for supper. While I was eating, an uncomfortable feeling came over me and I knew that eating the chicken was not a good idea, so, I said out loud, “I can’t do this anymore.” I set down my fork and stood up. Upon walking, my body felt different; lighter in a way, and, either the sun hit the room perfectly or my mind saw, but a bright light surrounded me. I do not remember what day it was, nor do I remember what happened immediately afterwards; I don’t even remember if I told my mother immediately, but I knew one thing, my mind was made up; I was a vegetarian. This was a step in claiming who I was and what I believed in; it was thrilling.
Here's a photo of me at 14:
However, I suffered quite a bit of turmoil. I was truly alone in my decision. I never met a vegetarian before, and had not read much, if any, about it, and at this time, society was not very friendly towards my choice. Family, friends, and acquaintances all questioned my decision. People physically threw meat at me, I was ridiculed, told horrendous things about my intelligence and was threatened with doomed tales of the afterlife. All of this just because of a tender heart and the desire to not want to hurt an animal! I was never one of those missionary vegetarians. I just wanted to eat my plants and be left alone. I was too worried about what I was doing to tell someone else what to do, so I never understood why people were so threatened by my choice. (Little did I know this was foreshadowing for almost every other decision in my life, but that’s a tale for another day.)
I made it through high school and moved off to university. There, I studied Psychology & Philosophy while in class, and the meat industry in my free time. Everything I read enforced that I made the correct decision. The animal cruelties caused by the meat and dairy industries were sickening. I still cannot read or watch much of those actions as it causes me great heartache. The health benefits I read about sounded great, so I just chalked that up to a bonus. (Of course now I know the health benefits are much more than a bonus, they are necessary, but we’ll dive into that further at another time.) In my classes I was able to study morals and ethics. During a meeting with my Environmental Ethics professor, he gave me a copy of “Slaughterhouse” by Gail A. Eisnitz. I was so thankful for a free book that I will never forget his small act of kindness. He was not a vegetarian, and never promoted it, but to be able to have an intelligent conversation with him about something I believed in so passionately and for us to never argue was truly a milestone. It was possible to exist in a world of differing opinions!
About half way through my college career I decided to become a vegan. I had read so many books and websites that denying the evidence was no longer possible. It was quite a transformation, having been a huge fan of dairy cheese. Let me just tell you that if you eat vegan cheese today you have no idea how bad it was 14 years ago…awful. Again, I did not know any vegans, and I cannot even remember meeting another vegetarian at this time, so it was all up to me to figure it out, and I am not one to back down from a challenge! I was easy with myself. I did not go vegan overnight. I would crave dairy sometimes, so I would go 6 days without it, then eat a little, then not eat it the next day. It is a natural progression. I do not remember a specific day when the dairy fell completely away, but it just became easier to let it go the longer I focused on the good I was doing.
It has been fun watching the changes in society. Watching the acceptance grow, the fact that most people know what the word “vegan” is and how to pronounce it. The fact that vegan restaurants exist. Twenty years ago it was amazing to walk into a restaurant and find a vegetarian (not vegan) burger on the menu, so we have certainly come a long way! Now, there are tons of vegan products in the markets that help people make the transition. It is an exciting thing to witness.
I hope I have inspired people along my journey to stop and think about what they are putting into their bodies. Mentoring people to veganism is one of the most rewarding actions I do and I cannot wait to help more. Please join me in celebrating this very personal, heart felt decision I made so many years ago. Here’s to your health, the environment, and the animals!
visiting Farm Sanctuary