I have been a vegetarian my whole life. Some people find this truly impossible to believe. My sister and I were both taught from an early age what meat was, and we wanted nothing to do with it. My mom was vegetarian and my dad ate meat. We had both examples to follow, and armed with the facts, we, like most children given all the information, chose not to eat the bodies of animals they we saw happily anthropomorphized in own books. The true concept is quite horrifying to small souls, and we were no exceptions.
No one specific event led me to become a vegan. Rather, it was a gradual process that began the day I started reading Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. I read it on my summer break back in 2011 and remember highlighting and underlining all of these phrases and ideas that I agreed with. I couldn’t believe that there were people in the world who still ate meat (my husband being one of them). This was one of those books that just lit a fire in me; I wanted everyone I knew to read it, give up meat immediately, and become PETA loving animal rights advocates. OK, that may be a little bit drastic. But still. It’s that good. And that important. It changed my life. Read it. Please. You can order it here.
Anyway, back to my summer. I was reading this book, happily snacking on my cheese stick and beaming with self-importance and righteousness. I was a vegetarian. I was not contributing to the horrible treatment of animals. I was doing it right. Until I started reading the chapter about the dairy industry. I realized, quickly, that something was not right about the way I was eating. If I wouldn’t eat an animal body, why would I eat products that came from animal milk? Why would I be steadfastly against the slaughter of animals, but not have a problem with the torture (and eventual murder) that dairy cows endure? I’d like to say that I became a vegan right then and there, but it was another few years before I fully committed.
I read a lot over the course of the next two years, and the more I read the less comfortable I became with eating animal products. My mom, a vegetarian for 25+ years became vegan at some point during this time. We talked a lot about her choice and she was a great inspiration that it could be done. I slowly began to phase things out. I wasn’t a big milk drinker, so that was no big deal. The first food to go (that I really enjoyed) was eggs. I enjoyed baking, loved fried egg sandwiches (with cheese of course), and regularly enjoyed brunches of omelets, French toast, or scrambled eggs. So I made a rule that I would eat eggs only outside of my house (silly, right?) but it worked. Before I knew it, I wasn’t eating them at all. In hindsight I can’t believe I even ate them as a vegetarian. I mean they might as well be chickens. Seriously. Think about it. Anyway, I used the same rule for butter, ice cream, and other dairy products. It was pretty simple…except cheese.
Sigh. The loss of cheese deserves it’s own paragraph. Melty cheddar on nachos, a delicious warm Brie with crackers, shaved fresh Parmesan on a plate of spaghetti, Vermont white cheddar on Triscuits, pizza, MAC AND CHEESE… cheese was truly a deep, deep love of mine. Alas, the love affair had to end. In order for me to truly feel good about what I was putting into my body and where it came from…cheese had to go. So it went. And I’m ok. In face, I’m much better knowing that my ethics aren’t being comprised every time I eat cheese. There are plenty of vegan cheeses on the market and those that you can make yourself. They are NOT the same. I have found, though, that once you give up dairy for a period of time, your taste buds adjust. Cheese is truly addictive, and once it’s out of your system, you feel much better without it. And honestly, why do we eat products made from the breast milk of another mammal anyway? Sort of like eggs…when you start thinking about it, really thinking, it’s strange. And kind of gross.
So that’s my journey. What will yours be?