In 1996, I became a vegan. For me it was about ethics. I abhored how we treated animals, and having seen the treatment, I decided I could no longer participate in that treatment as part of my diet.
But I wasn’t always like that.
Before that day in 1996, I had spent 16 years eating animals. I loved meat. I loved the brunswick stews we’d get in the fall and winter. I’d love the bar-b-que we’d eat on special occassions. For my birthdays, the meal was usually about a great meat, like Kings Barbeque, or Bills Barbeque, or once, a big steak at Lone Star steakhouse. My favorite snack was slim jims, and I’d fucking microwave them just to make them even greasier. I loved going to our local Fudruckers and seeing the cows hanging up in the front of the store. Hell, used to play ‘butcher’ when I was really young, making mud pies and pretending it was meat, flattening the mud on a tree stump.
I remember the first time I heard about vegetarianism. I was like ‘Why would you do that?’. It made absolutely no sense to me, so little sense that it didn’t even seem like a big deal, just some choice folks made. But after a few years, I started investigating it more.
And then I met some vegans. They were quiet about it. I think I found out they were vegan just by offering them some food. They were polite. But I respected these guys, and accordingly, I respected their choices, so I enquired, ‘Why veganism?’.
What I was told was solid ethics: Animals die to be our food, and humans being omnivores, we don’t have to eat them, so in turn, it’s a choice we are making. And the reality of farming makes their death not the worst thing for them, but actually second to the immense suffering they incur in how the majority are treated.
Something in the way it was explained to me made me realize that, to me, the way animals are treated, and us being ok with it, was akin to the long history of other groups of living beings being treated, with a majority being ok with it. Whether because of class, race, ethinic background, etc.
To me, the real question was, did I think that the animals I was eating could feel pain? Sadness? Anxiety? And I knew enough from having a cat to know, yeah, they probably could.
And so I became a vegan. I got a book of animal ingredients, and I began reading the labels on foods I bought, determined to only eat vegan stuff.
Before veganism, I had NEVER paid attention to the ingredients label of anything I ate. I remember being blown away by the sheer number of ingredients in the foods I ate, and how I could not pronounce some of those ingredients. ‘Sodium Stearol Lactate? Wtf is that?’, I’d think to myself. It was mindblowing. It seemed daunting, having to read all of this stuff. What was once a quick trip to the store, turned into a reading session, consulting with my list of ingredients. To a 16 year old, it seemed like homework. But I stuck with it. My friends told me ‘It gets way easier, you rememeber a lot of what you can eat.’ And sure enough, within a week I had it down to a good list of things.
Luckily, I lived in the city and so there were lots of restaraunts that had things I could eat. (Note: Today there is so much vegan food, back then it was probably a quarter to a fith of the availability in quick foods).
And like that, I was a vegan.
And I noticed an immediate change. Brain-wise, I felt a fog lifted from me. I could concentrate easier. Things made sense, easier. And body-wise, I felt way less slugish. It was like a weight had been taken off that I didn’t even know was there. And for the next 7 or so years, It was great.
Then my health took a turn. I had become alllergic to many things, probably because I ate something I was allergic to, and my body grouped it with other foods, repeatedly. I had allergies since I was a kid. Hell, after I went vegan and mentioned to my mom how good I felt, she said ‘Well you were born with a milk allergy’. Surprise, maybe thats why I had so much stomach pains growing up, and never could figure out why.
But my new allergies were horrible. And it took me about two years to even figure out it was an allergy. But once I found out, it made eating very difficult. Of the forty something foods I was tested for, I came back positive for all but seven.
But still, I stuck with veganism.
And then I started developing B12 deficiency. I didn’t realize it for the first few years, but after years of misdiagnosis from it, then years of mistreatement of it from doctors, I ended up with permanent neuropathy, and I started loosing my teeth. I didn’t realize it, but the damage I had done to my stomach from years of taking ibuprofen for other health issues, had caused me to have gastritis, and not be able to absorb not very much of anything during flareups. So my weight would drop, and I wouldn’t absorb anything. To add to that, I also didn’t realize that a non-animal diet prevents you from obtaining meaningful B12, most of the ones found vegan are analogs of B12, and don’t absorb the same.
And thats where I am now, and still, I stick with veganism.
Why? For the ethics.
I’ve thought about eating animals from time to time, to see if my health would improve, and the reality is, I probably will try it out at some point. During one of my first bouts of gastritis and weight loss, I tried eating dairy for a month to see weight gain, but no improvement occured. But now it’s been about a decade since then, and I’ve spent enought time with doctors, and it is worth trying to see what I could eat, and if it would help. Its a possibility my health would be better, and a possibility it would be worse, or perhaps, no change at all.
There is a possibility that all my health issues are from the vegan diet. And a possibility it has no bearing at all. Fuck, I also smoke, so there’s that. The truth is, I know about five other people who have been vegan as long as I have, and all of them are extremely healthy. They also don’t smoke, and they also didn’t grow up with allergies. So the question to me, isn’t about whether it’s a healthy diet in general, but about if it’s healthy FOR ME.
And so, when I had a daughter, I was worried I would pass on some genes that may give those allergies. And simultaneously, I ethcially could not encourage my kid to eat animals, so my carnivore spouse and I settled on raising her vegetarian, and luckily, the only health issues she has are not allergies, and are not effected by anything she could eat.
And it’s great seeing her go to a farm, and see animals, and her know that they are our friends, and we don’t eat them. My hope, is that she won’t have to overcome the cognitive dissonance of western diet, and if she chooses to eat animals, or to be a vegan, it’s a choice she can make when she is old enough, being informed, rather than conditioned.
But regardless, since that day in 1996, my ethics have been very much the same. Animals feel pain, sadness, and anxiety, and so we must admit that our treatment of them is in the same importance as any other living being. And regardless of how my personal diet goes in the future, at twenty years of feeling this way, I don’t think that belief will ever change.