When I was five, my school held a mini graduation for my Kindergarten class. I remember feeling my nerves wake up as I looked out at the crowd. Our teacher had given us construction paper the night before, and had instructed us to write down what we wanted to be when we grew up so that we could read it out-loud to our parents.
I heard Mary get called up to the podium, and the butterflies in my tummy instantly multiplied by ten. See, Mary always went before me, because we always went in alphabetical order according to our last names. Oh man. This was about to be the real deal, this was not a drill, people!! I don’t remember my thoughts, only the feelings, but I’m sure my thinking went something like this: “Okay, I can do this. I know the alphabet, I know letters. Words are just a bunch of letters put together. Wait…I can read, right?”
I saw Mary walk back, and I gulped. It was my time to shine. Mrs. A called my name, and I click-clacked my way over to the podium in my little black heels. I grabbed the microphone and said,
“When I grow up, I want to be a vet-er-in-ar-ian.”
Bam. Done. Killed it. Accidental mic drop.
I heard a collective “awww” come from the audience, but that was probably due to the fact that they were impressed I could even pronounce the word.
I obviously didn’t pursue that career path very long, but I tell you this story so you can understand that animals have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. My family has a ranch in Mexico, so I was exposed to more than just dogs & cats. Visiting the ranch to see family was delightful- visiting the ranch to see the animals was glorious. But even with all this “love” that I proclaimed to have for animals, I was a sucker for a burger, and even more-so for pizza. I’d roll my eyes when I’d go out to eat with a vegetarian and they took too long to order because they had to substitute foods and rearrange the whole menu. I was put-off by the vegan police, or anything that seemed too “granola,” to be honest. I wasn’t blind to the fact that I was drawn to bottom-tier foods, but they tasted good, and that was all I cared about. Anytime anyone brought up eating healthier, I would clap back wittily, “well, I’m here for a good time, not a long time!” And it was true. Until my mom got sick.
I never panicked about my mom walking the fine line that separates life and death. I don’t know how to explain it, but intuitively, I just knew she’d be okay. The composure that I was able to maintain helped me focus on her progression. I took advantage of the months at the hospital with her to educate myself. I’d look things up online- foods, supplements, alternative medicines, and anything else that would help. The one constant that would pop up everywhere were the benefits of increasing fruits, veggies, and water, and significantly decreasing your meat and dairy intake. It seemed almost like a guarantee- if you improve your diet, you improve your chances of living a longer, healthier life. I took it into consideration, but didn’t feel inclined to act upon it for myself. After all, my mom was staying at a hospital where they were feeding her things like steak, fried chicken, bacon and yogurt- in fact, they actually encouraged meat and dairy. So, if the hospital was okay with it, then it surely wasn’t wrong. (Note: Fast forward three years to 2017: the American Medical Association passed a resolution stating that hospitals should provide plant-based meals and “remove cancer-causing processed meats”).
Then one night I came across a video someone posted online. The video showed a man, James Aspey, talking. The video wasn’t too long, so I watched it (honestly, I probably would’ve stayed for his Australian accent alone). I was drawn in immediately to his story because I could relate to it; he shared a similar experience to my mom’s. He was never pushy, he was educational and informative, and he made sense (I found a short snippet of the video, so if you are curious and want to check it out, click here). He reinforced all the health benefits that come with being vegan, and enthusiastically shared his own experiences about them. I thought about it- if you don’t need meat to survive, and in fact, you can live a healthier life without it, why are we doing this to these poor animals? I made the decision to go vegan that night.
I won’t lie, it was hard at first learning how to manage my new lifestyle, and every now and then I’d slip up, but just like with anything else, I adjusted to it. I started watching documentaries* for extra motivation. And before I knew it, I didn’t crave my old foods anymore. I learned that your taste can change in just a few weeks (did you know that?? I didn’t!). I lost the “bad” weight, and to be honest, I got a little too skinny for my liking. But, I started working out with weights, and adjusted my diet to include more food (yay??), and now I’m at the perfect weight. And speaking of food- I was so excited to find out that- surprise!!- I actually like vegan food. My primary motivation for going vegan was the animals; health was secondary, but I can tell you that my initial belief in “being here for a good time, not a long time,” is gone. I’ve seen firsthand what it’s like to be sick in the hospital. I’ve seen how death isn’t instant- there’s a lot of suffering that comes before it. And a few cheeseburgers ain’t worth it anymore.
Our society is so disconnected from the process that our foods go through, and it’s hard to empathize or care for the things you don’t see. However, once you take the time to educate yourself on factory farming, animal cruelty, and animal testing, you can’t unsee those things anymore. You can’t stay silent. People who aren’t familiar with the ugly truths can be quick to label vegans as extreme. I know I held on to that notion for a long time. But after looking at things through a different perspective, not wanting to cause unnecessary harm to animals is not extreme. Mistreating and killing animals seems a lot worse, don’t you think?
With that said, I understand that the way some vegans handle things can be seen as “extreme,” but rest assured, there are silly people in general- there are plenty of foolish meat eaters, pescatarians, vegetarians, etc.- you get the point.
Ultimately, what I’m trying to say is that if you agree that causing unnecessary harm to animals is wrong, then do something about it. If you believe that what you put into your body can significantly impact your health, then act on it. Adopting a vegan lifestyle is one of the most positive things you can do for yourself, the planet and the animals. Even more good news- it has never been easier to do!
*Here’s a quick list of beginner documentaries & what they focus on:
Forks Over Knives (Health)
What the Health (Business behind your foods)
Cowspiracy (Environmental impact)