Do you have a while? It’s a long story. But a good one, I promise.
It was a fateful August 1st.
The year was 2011. The sky was blue and the air was warm but fresh. So, of course, I was indoors with a day of movie-watching planned. I had arrived home with a boatload of groceries and excitedly put together some wonderful snacks. I love snacks. I also love science fiction. Previously, I had downloaded a bunch of movies from a library labelled science fiction. My hard drive was full of unwatched sci-fi videos that beckoned to me; I couldn’t wait to heed their calls. I chose my first movie carefully. Something I hadn’t watched; I hadn’t even heard of it before. But a quick IMDB search revealed that it starred Joaquin Phoenix and I thought he was pretty good in Gladiator.
A few minutes into the film, I realized something was amiss.
With a name like Earthlings, I assumed the movie was about aliens. Perhaps with spaceships. Or at the very least, lasers. *pew pew pew* But I was wrong. It was about animal rights. I felt duped. I rolled my eyes as the voice over compared the plight of farm animals to the Holocaust. Well, that’s a grossly exaggerated comparison, I thought to myself. This movie was going to suck.
However, I was already sitting down on the couch. The couch was comfortable. And I had snacks.
So, I proceeded to learn about the five different ways that humans use animals. Graphic images of animal testing, the life of farm animals, slaughterhouse footage and circus animals confronted me. The atrocities I saw were actually things I kind of knew about but never wanted to think deeply about. The clips of video taken by undercover investigators sickened me. But as a meat and dairy consumer, I knew that I did not deserve to look away. If my voting dollars were going towards those industries, I needed to see the result. At the end of the film and a whole roll of toilet paper (for the tears, silly!), I decided that I no longer wanted to hand my hard-earned dollars to industries that would subject animals to pain and torture. I did not want to contribute to the demand for cruelly produced products. I was open to the idea of “humane” meat and dairy. But with no guarantee that the organic, free-range or so-called wild animal products available at grocery stores met my definition of humane (the documentary burst any bubbles that I had about that), I went vegan by default. By no means was I confident in my decision. I am a woman of very little willpower when it comes to food. My favourite food as a kid was Chinese-style sweet and sour pork chops. I had been known to devour an entire pack of bacon with a carton of eggs on Portuguese rolls over the course of a lazy Sunday. When asked how I liked my steak, I would answer “the bloodier the better.” My taste buds drove me most days and I loved to cook. It was my pride and joy. I was the cook on special holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. I loved the recognition that came with producing a tender, flavourful holiday roast. Martha Stewart was my idol.
I did not believe I had the ability to be or stay vegan.
Still, I could not “un-know” what I realized from watching Earthlings. So, I decided I’d give veganism a go and that I wouldn’t beat myself up if I failed. The first thing I did was do some research on vegan nutrition. I have a history of dieting so I already knew quite a bit about nutrition (not that I ever really acted on this knowledge). With some reading and the help of a calorie/nutrition calculator, I started meal planning. I packed my meal plans with plenty of protein and lots of fats from avocado, nuts and seeds. I made sure each meal would fill me up so that I wouldn’t be tempted to eat animal products. I made sure each dish was going to be full of flavour. The calorie range I aimed for was 2500 to 3000. That’s quite a lot for a 5’4″ 160lb woman who had a desk job and hardly ever exercised. But still reeling from the graphic footage, I didn’t want to fail. I’d rather get fatter than contribute to those industries. (My original blog post about this decision) After my first week, I felt great! I didn’t find it difficult at all. I was surprised that I hadn’t given in. In fact, I had not experienced any cravings. The deli below my office served butter chicken on Thursdays; I wasn’t even tempted. My menu of calorie-laden but nutritious vegan food was all that I needed. More than that, I was more energetic. I didn’t feel gross and bloated after lunch as I usually did. Those digestive issues that I thought were normal simply disappeared. As far as experimenting with cooking, I didn’t miss cooking meat like I thought I would. I was actually excited to try new and different high-protein plant foods. This vegan thing wasn’t as hard as I had thought.
Veganism is more than diet however. I was determined not to buy products tested on animals or that used animal parts such as fur or leather. I also tend to be an environmentally conscious person. I didn’t want to waste things or buy more petroleum-based products. I didn’t own any fur but I did own leather shoes, belts, and had a leather wallet. I decided to use them until they wore out enough to warrant replacement. It didn’t help the animals for me to throw out things I already had and buy new things. I also didn’t have the budget for that. After a month, I randomly decided to step on a scale. I was incredibly surprised to see that I had lost weight! I guess I did feel better but I was eating high-fat, high-carb foods. I was even eating way more french fries than ever as I was still figuring out what I could eat at regular restaurants with my friends. Still, I had lost a total of 8 lbs without even trying. And no, I was not exercising more; same old lazy, hate-to-workout me.
After realizing how easy it was to stay vegan and how my body was thanking me for it, I was able to think through the ethical implications of using animals, however “humanely.” I wrote about it here. The gist is that since I can survive (and indeed, thive!) while leading a vegan lifestyle, coupled with the fact that I love living and wouldn’t want my life taken away by another, I came to the conclusion that I shouldn’t take the lives of other sentient creatures or contribute to their exploitation. I don’t know if I will ever understand why I didn’t make this connection earlier. I do know that it took me a long time and a mix of experiences that brought me to this point. Therefore, I will never judge others for not going vegetarian or vegan. I hope that by showing people that thriving on a vegan lifestyle is possible and actually quite wonderful, more people will be encouraged to make compassionate choices.
I do believe that my purpose in life is to simply love others, to feel the love of others, and to encourage others to be loving. Living a vegan lifestyle helps me do that.