Vaishali over at Holy Cow! (which I highly recommend you read – try out her banana-nut muffins!) recently posted her ‘You Asked for It’ feature, where a teen asks about going vegan in a non-vegan family.
Well, I’ve pondered about a post about my path to veganism, and this is a wonderful opportunity for me to actually type it out and post!
I think it all began when I was nine, and we had a debate in English about the ethics of keeping animals in zoos. I discovered a dog-eared, smelly book in our (very) limited library on animal rights. It got me thinking about animal rights philosophy. I had always been vehemently opposed to the use of fur (I used to, from the age of eight, dash off angry letters to the editors of various magazines about the use of fur in their spreads – which were never published). That book, for the first time, introduced me to how animals are actually raised and killed for food.
(When I was four, I asked my mother where the meat in my sausages came from. She said, and my father affirmed this, that the chicken was raised on Old Macdonald’s farm, died a natural death from old age and then, and only then, was turned into a sausage. I found this hard to swallow, but I wanted to believe that it was true, so I did.)
When I learned about factory farming, I resolved to go vegetarian (Not vegan. Vegan? How do you even pronounce that? The book was published in the ’80s. According to the book, vegans subsisted on fruit, vegetables and Marmite.)
I continued regularly to resolve to go vegetarian over the next few years, failing each time. I did however, expound volubly to my fellow nine-year-old friends on animal rights and animal liberation. They listened wide-eyed, but unfortunately didn’t take me seriously, because I didn’t practise what I preached. I still ate sausage rolls for lunch.
More than factory-farming, however, I think it was the fact that humans were raising animals with the sole purpose of enslaving them and killing them that horrified me the most. To think that to eat one hamburger, or to drink one glass of milk, involved the suffering and death of so many living, sentient beings shocked me.
When I was twelve, I was presented with a laptop. I also, around this time, heard of an organization called PETA. I googled them, came upon their website and read about animal rights philosophy. (I skipped the gruesome videos.) This is what I read: (Go to the ‘In this Section’ tab and click on each link; the actual text hasn’t changed much, as far as I recall.)
Well, that day I added ‘Go vegan’ to my to-do list and called my mother who was at work and told her I was going to go vegan. She probably thought I was bonkers (I couldn’t even go vegetarian!). It was different this time, because I was serious. For the first time, I felt really and truly and deeply convinced.
So I went vegan that day and continued to research animal rights and vegan nutrition.
My parents probably didn’t realise what was happening till the next day, when we went out to lunch and there was very little that I could eat. Now, I have always loved eating, then and now. (That’s why this blog is the Joy of Vegan Eating!) When they saw that I wasn’t eating anything but the rather wimpy salad on the table, they were alarmed and angry. I rebutted each and every one of their arguments. I scowled at them and didn’t listen to them when they resorted to pleading and begging.
That night, I gave my dear father a long lecture on why I was vegan. I covered animal rights, health issues, environmental issues…which culminated in him taking me to grocery store so I could buy soymilk and tofu and other vegan things. He did some research of his own and also went vegan. (He is still vegan today. My mother is now vegetarian and my little sister is an omnivore who intends to go vegan when she is older. People find it funny that there are three kinds of eaters in this family. In case you were wondering, majority wins, so we all eat vegan at home, apart from the yoghurt and cheese in the fridge for the ma and sis.)
I continued to devour books on animal rights philosophy and speciesism. I read ‘Animal Liberation’ and many, many other brilliant books; I can't remember the titles off the top of my head. I also converted a couple of friends to vegetarianism (still very proud of that!). I began baking vegan brownies in the microwave (I finally learnt how to use the oven a year later and now the microwave is only used for reheating). I sent emails to companies that PETA put on their ‘action alerts’ list.
I also felt better. For the first time, I paid attention to my calcium, iron, protein and B12 intakes. My energy levels shot up, my skin cleared (no more spots!), my hair grew thicker and longer. I stopped getting colds! I was pleased, but the main reason I was happy was because by choosing not to contribute to the suffering of animals I was at peace with myself.
This was four-and-a-half years ago, and I’ve been vegan since then. I actually felt that going vegan was easier than going vegetarian. There’s one kind of vegan, and so many kinds of vegetarian! I knew from that first dog-eared book that the dairy and egg industries caused as much suffering to animals as the meat industry. Vegetarianism seemed sort of half-hearted to me because of that. (What if someone ate meat but no dairy or eggs? Do they cause more or less suffering to animals?). I have immense respect for vegetarians. However, when I do things it’s ‘all-or-nothing’, to use a well-worn but apt phrase. That’s why I have been non-vegetarian and vegan, but never vegetarian. I’m sure that most people would find it easier to go vegan from vegetarian, so if you’re thinking of making the transition, go vegetarian first.
(I was very blessed that my father was supportive. Without him taking me grocery shopping and being a willing taste-tester in all my cooking experiments, this would have been a lot more difficult. It’s funny, because he was the one who used to dissuade me from going vegetarian (‘You’re a growing child! Where will you get your protein from?’). He was also the person who yelled the loudest at that restaurant all those years ago. I still am not completely sure why he went vegan.)
This is already a very long post, but there are so many more things to say! I will definitely continue this and post again over the next couple of weeks.