Be the change. Go vegan!

My vegan story

or: How I got a new pair of eyes

Written ~ December 2010

I’d been a vegetarian for over 18 years before I ‘woke up’ and became vegan (I say this as it really did alter my world-view that much).

I was around 13 years old when I decided to stop eating meat (yes, fish included), for what I thought were animal rights and ethical reasons. My mum thought it was just a phase. Oh, and I’d just started getting into The Smiths too (…Meat is Murder anyone?).

Apart from two other girls in my high-school year, I didn’t know any other vegetarians so I joined some animal welfare and vegetarian groups/societies for information and guidance. These organisations had my full support for many years as a member.

On becoming vegetarian, I really wanted to be consistent and educated about the issues so I read much of the literature sent in the mail to me. I duly read members’ magazine articles about going “veg”, anti-fur, free-range eggs and animal testing etc.

I’m different. I’m an ethical vegetarian

Although leather was not focussed on as an issue in the vegetarian realm, I had thought about it in relation to fur and saw no difference. Skin was skin and you can’t have it without death (duh!). So I decided to stop buying or wearing it.

Other vegetarians I knew still wore leather and some even ate fish or chicken. It didn’t make sense to me. I felt I was thinking about this stuff logically and acting consistently. I was an ethical vegetarian.

I researched slaughterhouse by-products too and sought to avoid them. I studiously read labels and tried my best to avoid things like tallow (animal fat), gelatine (derived from boiled bones) and cheese with animal rennet (enzyme from a dead calf’s stomach).

I became well versed in brands and memorized my food products:

For instance, I could eat a chocolate Crunchie but not a Violet Crumble; Magnum but not a Golden Gaytime or a Paddle Pop; Vanilla Drumstick but not Cornetto; Coon Cheddar but not Bega Tasty; Jalna yoghurt but not Ski; Sara Lee ice-cream but no Blue Ribbon; Tim-Tams but not Iced Vovos… you get it. (Comment: ah, it’s so much easier now!)

I still consumed animal secretions and wore wool. I loved cheese. I baked a lot of cakes and always bought cage-free eggs. I had no issues with wearing wool… I was against mulesing, of course.

Don’t worry, I’m not a vegan

I’d never met a vegan but all I knew of them was that they didn’t use any animal products…Not even honey or silk for goodness sake!

It all seemed a bit over the top to me. “Militant” came to mind. I imagined it would be really hard too. You could never have cake, chocolate or ice cream. I could not imagine life without cheese either!

As far as I was concerned, animals did not have to die to produce eggs, milk, honey or wool. Therefore, veganism was really unnecessary and extreme.

When people found out I was vegetarian and were concerned about what to cook me, I remember saying things like “Oh, don’t worry, I eat eggs and cheese. I’m not a vegan or anything! ”

I’ll admit that I’d never read articles promoting veganism or discussing the rationale or logic… but I didn’t look that hard either. In addition, the term ‘vegan’ was not a word used much in the organisations which I’d joined, nor was it a position they promoted. Anyway, most of the committee and members were vegetarians just like me.

Set and forget

I felt really proud to be vegetarian – I was doing my bit for the animals. It certainly shaped my identity through those formative teenage years and I never questioned that it was a lifelong decision for me.

In addition, I felt informed. I was financially supporting campaigns as a (passive) member of animal welfare groups and organisations. I felt I was doing more than most so-called vegetarians by avoiding leather, gelatine, rennet, isinglass… I was consistent.

For 18 years I lived this way.

I must note that in my early 20s I stopped my membership with the many organisations I’d been affiliated with. Money was tight plus I didn’t appreciate receiving the many blood-and-guts laden flyers. I felt they were preaching to the converted and found the images upsetting.

I also stopped my membership with the vegetarian society as, being an avid cook, I had built up a large collection of recipes. Besides, I wasn’t a ‘hippie’ and didn’t much go for the alternative health focus in their magazine.

So, I knew what I knew, kicked in ‘cruise control’ and rolled on for a few more years… La, la, laa!

Waking up

Long after iPods came out I started getting into podcasts. I subscribed to a few radio current affairs programs and started looking for others of interest.

It wasn’t until 2008 while searching in iTunes for animal-rights and vegetarian podcasts, I stumbled across Colleen Patrick-Goudreau’s Vegetarian Food for Thought and Bob and Jenna Torres’ Vegan Freaks.

I subscribed to both as they were free. I felt I needed to catch up and refresh my memory on the issues. I’ll admit I was a little apprehensive about the Vegan Freaks one but I was curious nonetheless.

I started listening to them while I went running or drove to work. Both podcasts were interesting, though very different in tone and format. I really liked the non-confrontational, researched and structured way Colleen presented her topics for each episode, and in contrast, also enjoyed the entertaining, humourous radio-style of talk show presented by Vegan Freaks.

Episode by episode my mind was being filled with new information and ideas. Assumptions and beliefs I’d held about using animals humanely were being questioned and challenged. I heard the truth about the dairy and egg industries and it was horrific! Here I was – a vegetarian – participating in this cruelty by still consuming animal products. It was quite confronting and I recognised I was becoming defensive at times.

The truth can hurt. It can even turn you off cheese.

For months I listened to all the episodes available – sometimes, repeatedly. There were interviews and discussions on ethics, nutrition, domestication, cultural tradition, philosophy, feminism, politics, human rights and other social justice movements. I had never considered animal rights in this context before. It was fascinating.

This was also the first time I’d heard such utterly logical arguments for being vegan and the abolition of animal use. I could not fault the rationale. The podcasts provided a lot of practical information about living vegan too.

Down the proverbial ‘rabbit hole’ I went…

I’ll admit that at first I was a little scared of the door that had been opened. I knew I could never ‘forget’ this new information.

But I’d started questioning and analyzing more of my choices and the world around me. I became a sponge for information and sought out a range of animal rights and vegan-related books, online resources and blogs (there were so many).

I also watched Earthlings.

My eyes were now open. In fact, I felt like I had new eyes and was seeing everything from a totally different perspective.

I knew I didn’t want to be complicit or participate in the exploitation of non-human animals. It was all so wrong. Why didn’t someone tell me all this earlier?

My conscience wouldn’t justify anything less. I had to be true to my values. I had to go vegan.

Crossing over

I told my partner of my decision and reasons for going vegan and thankfully he was very supportive. He’d been involved in the hardcore music scene and knew a few vegans already. Although we had both been vegetarian, he was willing to try a plant-based diet and helped clear out any remaining animal products from the kitchen.

Initially I didn’t tell anyone else. My plan was to be a bit covert about it until I found my feet. I was worried I still didn’t know enough. I might mess up. I was also worried about what my friends and family would think. If I couldn’t communicate my reasons effectively, they’d think I’d lost the plot!

During my ‘research phase’ I’d ordered lots of vegan cookbooks. I learned of a few new ingredients like nutritional yeast and gluten flour, and started cooking with a wider array of plant-based whole foods than I ever had as a vegetarian. I also started adapting my old recipes and substituting ingredients. The food was fantastic!

I tried out many brands of non-dairy milks and still enjoyed my tea and coffee. To my delight I found that the dark chocolate I had already bought was dairy-free. Yaay! We still had chocolate!

But probably the most exciting discovery for me was that I didn’t have to give up baking – I loved to bake. I had no idea you could make a cake without eggs but after trying out some recipes in the books I’d bought I was convinced.  I was missing nothing!

My partner kept commenting on how good vegan food was and he didn’t miss dairy at all. He started picking up my new cookbooks and trying out different recipes (I think he’s used Veganomicon more than I have!). We were both eating more variety than ever.

When I took a pragmatic approach, other aspects of the vegan lifestyle were easy too. I went through my wardrobe and donated any wool or silk clothing. I also started replacing other items with vegan-friendly alternatives, either as I could afford to, or as they were used up.

Everyday I was finding more resources to help me and I felt more confident being vegan. If I stuffed up with anything, I learnt from it and moved on. I began to care less about justifying my decision to others or what they might think (my partner had kept telling me this!). I knew I was doing my best and following my conscience.

I finally had the “I’m vegan now” conversations with family and friends. Some were curious, some uncomfortably joked, some were initially skeptical but ultimately all were accepting and supportive. They’re also more than willing to eat any of our vegan food!

Since then I’ve broadened my circle (well, as much as this introvert can), and connected with many other vegans – both online and in person. I’ve also been involved with a number of Sydney Vegan Bake Sales which have been a great way to meet other local vegans, share vegan food with the public and most importantly, raise money for animal rescue shelters and sanctuaries.

Although going vegan was much easier than I ever imagined, if I had to cover off any negatives, it would undoubtedly be dealing with the double-standards that exist in society regarding our relationship with non-human animals. It can also be very emotional to re-sensitise and have more feeling and awareness of the suffering, use and abuse of animals. It’s everywhere you look. Our blatant use of other species as expendable resources is truly a sad injustice.

Speaking my truth

I look back and I am so grateful for those podcasts that started my vegan journey – particularly to Colleen Patrick-Goudreau. I still refer to her podcast episodes as they are so well researched, articulate, positive and inspiring. If you have not listened to them I encourage you to start from the beginning. I also recommend listening to Vegan Freak episodes 94 & 95 interviewing Gary L. Francione for some solid academic theory on animal rights.

Indeed I am grateful to all those advocates who I have come across as a result of diving down that rabbit hole. There are so many fantastic vegan and animal rights resources out there and I’m finding more all the time. Check out my links section for just a few.

Now, I’m a realist and I know there is still a lot to do for non-human animals. It may take time but I hold optimism for the future. I do believe that people can and will understand the arguments when they’re presented in a rational, logical manner. They have the power to make their consumer choices, alter tradition, evolve society and I believe people do care. (Far out…we can put people on the moon. You can’t tell me we have to rely on a lactating cow’s udder for cheese?!)

We are exposed to so many mixed messages but thanks largely to the web, word is spreading about an ethical vegan lifestyle. Conversations are starting. Irrespective of the different schools of thought within our growing community, more people are discussing animal rights and veganism even in mainstream media. I see this as a positive.

It may sound odd but on a personal level, going vegan has brought me a profound sense of peace and joy of which I never expected. It’s honestly been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made and I only regret not making the change sooner.

I hope to keep connecting with other like minds, learn more and promote veganism consistently and as best I can.

I can only be the change I want to see.

If you are not vegan, you should give it a go! It’s easier than it’s ever been. It’s living respect for other animals and what’s more, it’s good for your health and the planet.

Edgar's Mission

Recommended animal rights & vegan advocacy sites…

Find out more about veganism and animal rights by checking out the sites below or my links page.

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