When I was growing up I was something of a picky eater. With a British background, our meals consisted mostly of meat, potatoes, and some kind of frozen vegetable. I thought I hated vegetables growing up – except broccoli and corn. I fed peas to my cat, I gagged on mushrooms – I generally tormented my poor mother by refusing to eat most vegetables. She thought it was hilarious when I announced, at 21, that I was becoming vegetarian. Well, after she stopped laughing she looked concerned. What are you going to eat?!
Though I seemed an unlikely vegetarian at the time, I had always loved animals, and I hated to see any being suffer. I remember distinctly the sadness I felt when we went to zoos and saw animals cooped up with no space to roam.
And so, when I went to an environmental club meeting in my second year of university, and that meeting happened to be focused on factory farming, featuring information by PETA, my life changed forever. I was struggling to learn how to cook at the time, and I hated cooking meat anyway, so that part felt right at least.
Still, I didn’t know what to eat, and I wasn’t that interested in my own health. So I substituted meat with cheese – and wow, that didn’t seem so bad. I ate a lot of mac and cheese and grilled cheese sandwiches that year. But I was vegetarian! All I cared about was not hurting animals. One of my vegan friends tried to expose me to the harms of dairy (from an animal welfare point of view), but I couldn’t imagine HOW I could not eat dairy. Really, WHAT would I eat?!
And so I carried on with this poisonous diet until I ended up in the hospital with kidney problems. Fortunately for me, my older sister was going vegetarian at the same time, but she was focused on the health reasons for doing so. That summer I went to live with her up in northern Canada, and she taught me how to cook vegetarian food properly. For the first time I tasted lentils, and rice and other grains became a major part of my diet. And I learned what fresh vegetables were, and how wonderful they tasted raw! It was like an awakening. I look back on it now, and shake my head, but at that time it was truly like walking into a different world. I try to remember that when I meet and talk to people who say, “I’d love to be vegetarian/vegan but I could never give up meat/cheese/eggs etc. – it would just be too hard.”
I dabbled in veganism over the next 13 years, a year here, a year there. But without much of a veg support system, the realities were easy to ignore. I finally made the full commitment to a vegan lifestyle three years ago, when I started working for Vegan Mainstream, and I was forced to face the harm caused by the dairy and other animal by-product industries. Though I had not been eating a dairy-rich diet, I felt a little sick to realize that eating the dairy that was still in my diet was perhaps even worse for me than meat, and even sicker to come to a full understanding of how harmful and cruel it is as an industry. I have been a proud, happy, healthy vegan for three years now, and I only wonder now what took me so long!
I love living this compassionate, animal-friendly, earth-friendly, healthy lifestyle – I have never been healthier in my life. I also LOVE to cook, and my husband (who has become vegan as well) and I often chuckle as we eat our delicious, healthy dinners and think about the people who shake their heads sadly and feel that we must be deprived.
My journey is far from over. Now that I finally really “get” it, I want to make sure the word gets out far and wide. It is much easier to be vegan these days than it was to be vegetarian when I first got involved in the movement. There is so much information out there – there are fabulous innovative chefs – professional and amateur – who are creating amazing healthy, compassionate food, and are generous about sharing their recipes. There are doctors speaking out about the health benefits of a healthy plant-based whole foods diet, showing that vegans can not only be healthy – but they can be among the healthiest!
I have three young vegan nephews who give me hope for the future on a daily basis. Without years and years of brainwashing to overcome, children are able to intuitively understand that this lifestyle is right.
I am inspired by the people in the movement, especially the team I work with at Vegan Mainstream each day. As an increasing number of people become aware of the issues, and of the health, environmental and compassionate reasons for a vegan diet, veganism is definitely going more mainstream, and I – for one – am thrilled to be part of such an empowering movement!