Today is a big day for me as it marks my one-year anniversary of becoming a vegan. What started out as a six-week trial run that only my husband knew about has become a complete one-eighty of how I not only view food and animals, but how I view the world. Quite simply, it has changed my life.
I first wrote about why I became vegan after the six-week period was up and I knew I wasn’t going to go back to eating meat and dairy. As I’ve said before, it was a no-brainer once I began to understand the issues. Today I re-read what I first wrote almost a year ago about my “coming out” and with the exception of one sentence that I no longer feel the same towards (I’ve since updated the post to reflect this), nothing has changed. That is good news and bad news. Good news because it has only strengthened my resolve to share my experience with others but bad news for the millions of animals who continue to toil away in factory farms and slaughterhouses with no choice in the matter.
When I first began this voyage – and it truly feels like one, as though there were an unlit path in front of me I couldn’t see before and now I’m trying to figure out where it leads – I assumed the hardest part would be the actual eating. What would I eat? Would it be healthy? How would I live without cheese?!? Well, as it turns out, that was not nearly as difficult as I thought it would be. I’ve read many accounts of how people make the switch to a vegan diet and even though it generally starts out being kind of a shitty one (omitting meat and dairy but eating a lot of sugary and fried foods), they still lose weight and feel better. I was no different: despite eating a lot of crap like chips and fried rice the first week as I figured out new dishes and food options, I lost two and a half pounds in the first ten days just from cutting out meat and cheese. In fact, I stopped worrying about food altogether – I ate when I was hungry, stopped when I was full and my connection to food has never felt more personal or satisfying. I now eat to fuel my body rather than to stuff my face and please only my taste buds. I love discovering a new delicious recipe that I could eat alongside a cow or a pig or a chicken and even share with them. I love that my entire previously held misconceptions of what the vegan diet involved has been turned upside down and proven wrong. I love knowing that I am entering middle age with complete control over my cholesterol, my weight and my food options, something the medical community seems reluctant to empower their patients with by teaching them proper nutrition and offering them options besides a lifetime of prescription pills and invasive surgery.
I don’t love realizing that I’ve been lied to my entire life. I don’t love the fact that the meat and dairy industries continue to bombard the public with misinformation about the true nutritional value behind their products. I don’t love that the price the public is paying for those lies is to be at risk for obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. I don’t love the fact that children are still being targeted so deliberately by McDonald’s and that they are flat-out being lied to by the dairy industry about how cows are really treated on a “farm”. I don’t love that I am mocked for being a vegan by ignorant people who don’t even bother to ask why I’m a vegan first. And I hate, detest and despise the suffering that animals are being subjected to every minute in this country when we don’t require their flesh and by-products to survive.
When I said in my coming-out post that it feels like shedding an old skin, that remains an accurate description.
Underlying this past year have been both hope and sadness. There is a sense of gain and loss. A gain of new information, new options and a new way of viewing animals whom I really didn’t give much thought to before. A loss of ignorance (always a good thing) but also of innocence. The world that was painted for me growing up and for so many of us, simply doesn’t exist. We do not live in a peaceful, tolerant, loving world and we are certainly not taking care of the one home we all depend on for survival. The naive child in me has not only grown up but almost entirely disappeared. Once you know you’ve been betrayed, you can never forget. Once you face the facts, you can never un-see them. It changes everything and even if I wanted to go back, it would never be the same.
In the second last chapter of The China Study, Dr. Campbell talks about his peers, Dr. John McDougall and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, and how they were once in the elite “inner circle” of the academic world, promoting the status quo of an affluent, Western diet and treating patients who suffered the consequences with pills and surgery. But since discovering the unbiased truth about food, nutrition and health through their collective years of dedicated research backed up by scientific studies and subsequent publications – not to mention helping thousands of people regain control of their health through diet alone – these men, “have now been denied reentry into the establishment”. They are now outsiders in the medical community; excluded, on the fringe. I’ve had days where it’s felt like that, like I’m now on the outside. Just walking through a food court can make you feel that. Hearing people use expressions like, “filthy pig” or “stupid cow”, and still catching myself using those words from time to time, I can’t help but feel the depth of our prejudices and misconceptions about animals and their suffering.
It is estimated that in Canada right now there are 1.4 million vegetarians and 475,000 vegans. That’s great news but with 35 million people in Canada altogether and 650 million land animals killed every year for food, there is still a lot of work to be done. There is still a lot of information that needs to be shared and a lot of blinders that need to come off about the reality of our food.
It can be scary, taking that plunge. But I don’t regret it for a moment. I know my health is better for it and I know I have grown as a person because of it. My worldview has expanded into something I am still trying to articulate. And despite sometimes feeling displaced within my own environment, I also feel that I am closer than ever before to really understanding what kind of person it is that I want to be.
Thanks for taking the road with me, no matter where you’re at. Thanks to everyone in my life who has supported me from the beginning. I look forward to the year ahead.