Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Going Vegan: My thoughts on the journey.


I've always been an animal lover.
At six or seven, I would run errands with my mom and we'd find ourselves
in the Walmart parking lot, calling my dad and begging him to let us bring home a free kitten,
despite the fact that my mom and I were both allergic. 
In 3rd grade, after being inspired by an article I read in some kid's magazine,
I organized a school penny drive to raise money for a bulletproof vest for our 
county's police dog. In 4th and 5th grade, my best friend and I were pint-sized
animal rights activists. We ran a (highly unsuccessful, considering that she lived on a 
seldom-traveled gravel road) lemonade stand and gave the profits to the animal shelter,
we went door to door asking for signatures to help save endangered animals
and we called toothpaste and shampoo companies and chided them for testing on animals.
My friend's family was vegetarian and I begged my dad to let me stop eating meat.
He said no. And I probably pouted and cried, but I recovered.
In junior high and high school, I got involved in sports and writing and I forgot about my 
short-lived days fighting for the ethical treatment of animals. 
I ate BBQ ribs before the Sadie Hawkins dance.
I ate deer meat in the winter after hunting season.
I ate shrimp and crab like it was going out of style.
One day in college I came across an article about how anyone can do anything for 30 days.
Run every day for thirty days straight? Sure.
Do a favor for someone every day? Totally doable.
I've always loved a good challenge and though I'd been a happy meat-eater for years,
I still admired vegetarians for what they stood for and for their discipline.
Hey, I thought. I'm an adult. Why not try to be that person I admire?
It sounds simple, but it's always been a bit of a novel concept for me.
So, I resolved that if anyone could do anything for 30 days, I'd be a vegetarian for 30 days.
In the beginning, I had no plans other than abstaining from meat for 30 days only.
But I thought that as long as I was doing it, I might as well read about why the vegetarians
I had admired for so long stopped eating meat in the first place. Of course I knew that animals
have to die before they're eaten, and that's not necessarily a pleasant thing.
But I wanted to know details. I wanted some hard facts.
 In the first week of my new vegetarianism, I started reading Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. On the list of books that have changed my life, this book sits solidly at the top. For several years, Foer delved deep into the meat industry, as an employee at slaughterhouses,
as a writer touring facilities and interviewing employees
and as a researcher scouring records and reports.
Obviously I can't prove that everything in the book is true. But I firmly believe that it raises important issues about how harmful the factory farm industry can be for animals, humans and the environment, issues that are largely ignored by the public because 
A) The meat industry is so huge and so powerful,
it keeps anything negative out of the the public eye and
B) People like their meat and they don't want to feel guilty about eating it. 
And guilty is exactly how I felt after I finished the book. BBQ and seafood were two of my favorite foods in the entire world. Of course I didn't want to stop eating my favorite food. But that book forced me to weigh the outcome of my choices.
For me, I decided that the pleasure I got from eating my favorite meaty foods
wasn't worth the implications eating them had on the environment.

Over the course of my 30 day vegetarian trial, I felt changes in my body, too.
I had fewer headaches. I had more energy and I felt sick less often. I felt really good.
After the 30 days were up, I decided to become a full-time vegetarian. 
And when I first became a vegetarian, I thought vegans were completely nuts.
Seriously, no milk? No eggs? Even though Eating Animals talks about the damage
done to animals and the environment by the egg and dairy industries, 
there had to be some limit, I thought. But about one year after my decision to become
a vegetarian, I got curious about veganism. And I started thinking about the milk I poured on my cereal or the eggs in my omelets. I was really surprised to find myself feeling pulled toward veganism and I was shocked at the guilt I felt over my food choices. 
I didn't feel like that time was the right time for me to try veganism, 
but I resolved that it was something I would work toward in the future.
30 days ago, I decided to embark on 30 days of veganism.
My trial veganism has been a wholly different experience than my first 30 days as a vegetarian.
I didn't feel the same rush of energy or clearing of my head that I felt when I gave up meat,
but I've noticed that eliminating dairy has made a difference in my digestion
and I feel like I've lost fat from my stomach. 
To make sure I was getting vitamin B12,
 I took a supplement and it made me queasy sometimes.
Most surprising to me was how little I missed eggs and dairy.
Coconut ice cream was an easy and equally delicious substitute for dairy ice cream
and I've never been a huge egg eater. And the things that I missed were things I know
aren't good for me anyway...Reeses peanut butter cups
and super cheesy pizza and baked goods.
The thing that I missed most was variety. Being a vegetarian cuts down on your food choices,
especially when you're eating out. Being a vegan limits you even further.
What I didn't miss at all was the guilt. The last 30 days, I've felt incredibly proud of 
the effort I made to protect the environment and my own health. Eating vegan made it easy
to eat for fuel, not for pleasure or out of boredom, and that was really refreshing.
But now I've come to the end of my 30 days,
and I know I'm not going to be a strict vegan. At least not now.
Part of it is that I'm not wholly convinced that being
a vegan is the healthiest decision for humans.
You can find protein and calcium in plant sources,
 but I'm struggling with the fact that vitamin B12,
a vitamin that's essential to our nerve functions, is only found naturally in animal products.
Since that's the case, it's hard for me to be convinced
that it's healthy to avoid all animal products.
The other reason I can't fully commit to veganism is because I just don't have the willpower.
I want a freaking cheese pizza. Do I feel bad that I'm putting my own personal pleasure above my concerns for the world? Absolutely. But I don't think eating is an all or nothing game.
If you feel guilty eating meat but you love it too much to give it up, eat less of it.
Eat meat that comes from small, humane, organic farms. 
I don't feel ready to say good-bye to dairy and eggs completely,
but I know I can eat less of it. I can get soy milk in my coffee.
I can trade some of my yogurt lunches for nuts, seeds or beans. 
Eventually, I may be ready to commit to veganism entirely. 
Or maybe I never will. 
Either way, I think I've gained a lot from my 30 days as a vegan
and I'm very happy I did it.  

10 comments:

  1. Great post! Very insightful.

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  2. Your writing is so compelling, it almost makes me want to go from vegetarian to vegan. But seriously, well written - and well done. You should be proud of yourself!

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  3. I am not vegan nor vegetarian, but I was veggie for 7 years, and we very limited dairy. I know there are a lot of people who are vegan and make it work, but I agree with you -- a part of me does not believe it is the healthiest. YET I do believe that it is important to monitor what you are eating and make sure you are getting a variety of plant sources of nutrition in you, and you are doing that. The fact that you care about what you eat is so much more than many people, and for that reason you will be healthier than the majority. Congratulations on your 30 day challenge!!!

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  4. Love this. I'm a vegetarian as well and recently went to a new doctor who said he's been a vegetarian for 35+ years. I mentioned that I'll probably go vegan because of the factory farming of the animals and the growth drugs and whatnot and that I feel guilty as well. He said exactly what you said in your post--don't give it up, just go local or to a true organic farm. So I guess it's time to start finding some of those! He said Boar's Head cheese is the best and cheese is really my biggest problem to give up so I liked that answer :)

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  5. I love meat. That being said...

    If all animals' lives are equal- have you ever considered the millions of bugs, birds and small furry creatures that are killed or dethroned by agriculture? This is not a big problem if you don't mind other things dying so you can eat (myself,) it is a big problem if you do.

    Consider reading "The Vegetarian Myth" to add a perspective to your eating and sustainable agriculture journey: http://bit.ly/RwNIYt . I have never read this book, I am a fan of the gentleman who wrote this review.

    As a personal trainer and CrossFit coach, vegetarianism is not something I have thought about much. My view on nutrition starts and ends here: What are your goals? How can we reach them and keep you happy? But that's a different conversation completely. I just thought I'd add something potentially interesting to the conversation while I was stalking your blog to see if Ryan was going to grow a moustache any time soon.

    Enjoy that California fall.

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  6. So well written and articulate! I completely agree with what you said although I am not vegan nor vegetarian. What people don't realize is they don't have to give what they love up to eat it responsibly...

    My milk, eggs, and cheese is delivered to my doorstep every Tuesday by our milkman. All the diary products we eat (including ice cream, coffee creamer, etc.) is never ultra-pasturized and is completely hormone free. The chickens and cows are treated humanely and the products are handle responsibly.

    These options are available, people simply don't take the time to research how to obtain it in their area; therefore, putting doing a disservice no only to the animals they're consuming, but also to themselves and their own well-being.

    Just my thoughts :)

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  7. great blog! now following you on gfc, would love it if you followed back :)

    i've been a vegetarian basically my whole life, do you find it that sometimes you feel low on energy?

    http://www.counttofour.com

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  8. I came across your blog through Aunie Sauce yesterday, and just got around to visiting to read a post or two. I LOVE this post, and to be honest with you, it's so similar to my own story of vegetarianism/veganism that I seriously could have written this myself. I am not 100% hard core vegan, but I don't eat much animal products, and those I do are not meat, fish, poultry, or eggs. I give in a little with cheese sometimes. I feel so so so so much better than I ever thought possible. I actually accidentally lost a little too much weight, which NEVER was an issue for me before. I take the mentality of "food is medicine", because we're eating it many times per day, and it's chemically broken down in our bodies. We forget that, because it's yummy, but it really is just chemicals breaking down -- I want the RIGHT ones in me! :)

    I got a little long-winded there, but great post, thank you for sharing, and keep it up!!! :)

    Gayle
    http://graceforgayle.wordpress.com

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  9. I love your approach! I have been a vegetarian for about 8 months and feel that it has made such a huge difference in my health! I attempted to be a vegan for a while, but went through the exact same though process you did.

    I am sure you have seen the documentary "forks over knives", but if you havent it is really interesting!

    ~Clara

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  10. You go girl!!! I'm not sure I could do it!

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This is the part where you tell the pups how cute they are.
...but seriously, thank you so much for stopping by and for your wonderful comment! I read them all and try to respond as often as I can. We hope you visit again soon :)