Why I Became First a Vegetarian and Then a Vegan
When we came up with #DefiningMoments as one of our overarching themes for #BlogHer15: Experts Among Us, of course we staff members started thinking about, sharing, and asking one another about our own personal #DefiningMoments.
It's always interesting to me how curious people are about why I became first a vegetarian, and then 17 years later (!) a vegan. (It's also interesting to me how often people really want to know this while we're sharing a meal. A nonvegan meal, on their part, but that's another story.)
Everyone's got their own story. Mine hinges on two core philosophies that I think guide me through way more than my eating choices:
1. Do your actions reflect your beliefs?
You should really try to align those as much as possible. Some people think happiness is when reality meets expectations (where reality is what happens to you and expectations are what you expected to happen to you).
I think that reasoning is actually sound when it comes to something else: Satisfaction. However, I think happiness is perhaps more closely aligned to when the reality of your actions meet your own best expectations of yourself.
2. Do what you can until you can do better.
I fight perfectionist thinking just like a lot of you probably do. And it's easy to throw up your hands and consider anything less than perfection to be a failure. And then it becomes easier to simply not try.
Understanding I won't be perfect but that shouldn't stop from me from trying was the all-important shift in thinking that finally brought me from vegetarian to vegan after 17 years of "failure" at it ...
The rest of the journey came from finally listening to message not from "the Universe," but my own heart and brain!
It started in 1989 with a donation to the ASPCA in NY, where I had just rescued two street kitties. That got me on every animal organization mailing list. (We're talking snail mail here ... the Dark Ages.) I started getting lots of information about animal right issues. Things I had honestly never thought much about despite "loving animals."
And I became galvanized. I’ve always been a voter, but you vote most often with your wallet. As I learned more, I realized I didn’t want my hard-earned money going certain places.
Even so, I wasn’t sure I could handle vegetarianism. It was daunting for me to imagine applying one more dietary limitation to my choices, adding to those I impose to try to stay fit. (I know; vegetarianism is supposed to make you naturally wraith-like … sorry, it’s a myth!)
One day I took a simple walk in my Astoria, Queens, neighborhood, but saw things with fresh eyes. As I walked through my neighborhood, I started looking at the butcher shops. They typically hung the animals in the window with slits up their bellies. Not pretty.
Then I walked by one unloading a delivery, and there were buckets of some kind of gross, meat-oriented stuff on the sidewalk and they were literally hosing off the blood running down the sidewalk. It seemed like a sign, for a girl who didn't put much stock in signs, so I thought: "I haven't eaten meat today ... let's see how it goes. If I can't keep it up? Well, at least I tried." That was 26 years ago. Spoiler alert: It turned out to be not that difficult.
Going vegan was another matter. I tried in those early days. It was my New Year's Resolution more than once.
But this was in a different kind of Dark Ages ... no awareness in the general population about veganism, not in restaurants, for sure, and no easy access ... no Whole Foods, no TraderJoe's, no Organics product line in Safeway.
It was hard eating out, it was hard traveling: it just seemed. too. hard. So I gave up. For YEARS. I actually went vegan outside my body pretty easily... no leather, suede, wool, even silk. But the eating part eluded me.
Finally, flash forward 17 years. I read a book called MEAT MARKET, by Erik Marcus. It went into pretty brutal detail about the lives of layer hens and dairy cows, obliterating any doubt that I was not doing all I could do to not support cruelty with my wallet.
And I had much the same conversation with myself: Okay, I haven't eaten and dairy or eggs today. How hard would it be, really, to try this again. Times have got to be different, and I'm back living in hippy-dippy California. Surely, I can pull this off. So I just decided to do it.
And I also decided to stop mistaking imperfection for failure. That something going not exactly as planned (or even something going awry because I hadn't planned) did not mean I was a failure. Incapable. Incompetent. Wrong. Bad. Destined to not live up to my own beliefs. It meant I was human. And as a human, imperfect. And that I could simply just keep going. Just keep trying.
I’m a believer in starting with a step. The more steps you take, the better, but no one takes every step.
You abhor fur, but still eat a burger? I'm glad you abhor fur.<.p>
You're a vegetarian who still wears leather shoes? I'm not going to be the one calling you out.
You're a vegan who sometimes forgets to be the Ingredient Cop you should and feel pretty sure you just ate something nonvegan (guilty!). Bummer. Move on.
You're a vegan and find out the miso soup you've been enjoying at your local Japanese place all these years actually has bonito flakes, despite you asking the first 20 times and being told "no," but then finally getting a new waiter who actually asked the kitchen, and you found out "yes"? (Okay, that one actually happened to me.) It's unfortunate, but try not to stay TOO bitter about it. And maybe stop going there.
My #DefiningMoment wasn't about achieving perfection. It was about starting down the path of better living up to my own ideals. And I don't know if I'll ever achieve perfection in this world (pretty sure I won't). But that's okay.
Even the Dalai Lama probably still gets annoyed at drivers who don’t use turn signals, right?