The story of why I went vegan can be traced back to the fact that I was a super awkward and PAINFULLY shy little kid. Because of this, I often felt a lot more comfortable around our family pets than I did when I was at school hanging out with real live people. In the afternoons I’d come home to a quiet house, my mom was never home before six. So I would happily spend those unscheduled hours between school and dinner time with my very best friend: Fergus.
Fergus was a shelter dog. When I was about four my mom drove us to the local shelter and for whatever reason we gravitated towards the white wirey terrier mutt shyly sitting in one of the kennels. The shelter worker said he wouldn’t be the best dog for us -he’d been returned several times- but after a few minutes of getting to know each other in the play yard we were all sold. My mom handed over the adoption fee and signed on the dotted line- Fergus was part of the family now.
From that day until we said goodbye to him in when I was 17, Fergus was a constant friend. Through the tumult of middle school, the teenage drama of friendships and breakups, disappointments and tremendous joys, Fergus was my buddy through and through. He taught me that we could have real relationships with animals, different from the ones we have with people to be sure, but still valuable and life enriching.
So how could I reconcile this love for animals with the fact that I ate them everyday with almost every meal? The answer is very simple: I couldn’t. Like everyone else around me I chose not to think about the suffering that took place before my meal met my plate. I couldn’t pretend I didn’t know what was going on, I’d read John Robbins’ “Diet for a New America” when I was 15, but it seemed too hard to change my habits, to learn a new way of eating, to be the weird person always asking about ingredients when I went out to a restaurant.
Years and years passed and once in a while I would think about this disconnect between what I believed and what I was doing, but it was uncomfortable and kind of scary to think about becoming vegan, so I kept pushing those feelings down and continued eating the way I always had.
Meanwhile, my (now) husband and I got a dog! A tiny poodle named Millie who very quickly inserted herself into the family and became our very best friend. Everyday Millie would totally surprise and delight us with her personality, her sense of humor, and her smarts. We could see her thinking about how to reach a toy, get us to take her on a walk, or find the coziest spot on the couch. In the back of my mind I took all this in and a little voice started chattering away at me, saying: “If Millie can feel happy/scared/sad, can’t a pig or a cow feel that way too?”
“If Millie can feel happy/scared/sad, can’t a pig or a cow feel that way too?”
Now, there was no lightening bolt moment to tell you about where I suddenly “saw the light” and quit animal products for good. It was a slow, almost unconscious process. First, I went vegetarian-no small feat while waiting tables at a restaurant that served A LOT of fried chicken, sausage pizzas and pig’s head fritters (they are exactly what they sound like).
For six months I continued to eat eggs and dairy while studying veganism, never actually imagining I could switch to a fully plant based diet. Still, I consumed a ton of information, reading books like the 30 Day Vegan Challenge, wandering through the archives of plant based blogs, and binging on ‘What I Eat in a Day” videos on YouTube.
The Vacation Experiment
Then, about five months into my new vegetarian life, John and I went to Maui for two weeks. For whatever reason, I decided that on this trip I wasn’t going to eat any dairy or eggs. For our whole vacation I switched to soy creamer in my coffee, skipped the cheese on my (vegetarian) burger, and passed on the ice cream/cookies/junk food I typically treated myself to on trips. Two things surprised me about this: 1. It wasn’t hard. 2. When I got home I’d dropped eight pounds.
Here’s the thing, post vacation weight gain is a real thing that I pretty much always experienced, so I was in complete shock. Not only had I lost weight on vacation, I had lost weight period. Over the past several years the pounds had steadily been piling on. No matter how much I exercised or what diet I tried, my weight was on an upward trajectory and there seemed like nothing I could do about it. It felt miraculous that I’d come home to a scale that budged and that was enough to get me to challenge myself to go another full month as a vegan, just as an experiment (vain, I know, but there ya go)
Do Try This At Home
Four weeks passed and another six pounds came off. I had so much energy and for the first time in my life it seemed like that I had some control over my body and my health. I was finally giving my body what it wanted – lots of fruits, veggies, beans and grains – and the change in how I felt was amazing and unexpected. Most important there was a shift in my mental well being because my actions were finally aligning with my beliefs. The peace I experienced because of that was so surprising and incredible, I knew I would never go back to eating animal products again.
My actions were finally aligning with my beliefs
So here we are now, almost three years later and I am still just as committed to this way of eating as I ever was. It hasn’t always been easy. Waiting tables three or four nights a week at a restaurant where almost every dish included an animal product took a toll on me. Selling and describing food I was morally opposed to was awful, but as a grad student I needed the money and tried to encourage my customers to pick the most vegan or vegetarian options. Family and friends were mostly supportive, but there were often little comments and jabs around the dinner table that irked me. Still, being able to look at the animals around me and know I’m doing everything I can to not contribute to their suffering has made it 100% worth it.