Making the Change to Vegan
People usually switch to a plant based life style for 3 reasons: to become healthier, for the environment, or for the rights and welfare of animals. For me, the catalyst that made me vegetarian in one fell swoop was reading Diet for a Small Planet and learning how ecologically wasteful it was to eat meat: It takes 2,500 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of hamburger, but only 250 gallons of water to make 1 pound of whole wheat flour. The fecal waste of farm animals in the United States is so extensive farmers do not know what to do with it, so it ends up polluting rivers and aquifers. 16 pounds of grain go into the cow to make 1 pound of meat. As a budding environmentalist and a rebellious 14 year old, quitting chicken, meat and fish was easy.
The next year, I did a book report on Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation, and animal rights became a strong reason for me to give up leather, wool and silk and to purchase cruelty free products. But I still ate dairy, even though I was fully aware of the horrors of the dairy industry . I was in awe of vegans -so many things have milk and eggs in them! I knew there were substitutes, but it seemed like I was confronted by dairy virtually every day, and I always said yes since there was no vegan alternative at hand. When it came to fashion, I was OK not being able to wear designer clothes, but I couldn’t wrap my head around not being able to eat any treat whenever I wanted.
I once watched a particularly graphic video on dairy cow abuse that had me weeping harder than I had in years, yet 4 hours later I had a frozen yogurt. Food had always been my crutch and sugar was my addiction, so I figured I would never be able to become completely vegan.
But then one day, I did. It took me 20 years from the time I first vaguely aspired to be vegan, but in 2010, after eating a frozen yogurt that I realized didn’t really taste that good, I told my husband Ian that I was giving up dairy for good. I cannot tell you why that day, I can only say that all the messages I had been getting over the years suddenly added up, and I knew I was never going back. I wanted my diet to reflect my values, and eating food from exploited, captive animals was against my ethics.
Being vegan wasn’t a no-brainer at first – for the first few weeks, it meant planning meals until I had a few that I liked and could keep handy, and I had to bring healthy snacks with me when I went out for the day, to lower the odds that I’d impulsively, in a fit of low blood sugar, reach for a something that had dairy in it.
Something happened that surprised me: pretty quickly, everything with eggs or milk in it became unpalatable. I do not feel deprived forgoing my hitherto favorite treats like milk chocolate: to eat dairy is now as far off as eating plastic, or eating meat.
My heart has also opened. I am more peaceful, patient and empathetic. I literally look at the world differently.
For me, giving up these foods for ethical reasons, not to lose weight or even for my health, has made it easy to resist my favorite temptations. I certainly feel healthier as a vegan, because I am finally aligned: my diet is in tune with my heart.
I regret deeply that it took me so long to finally commit to being vegan. But now that I have, it is far easier and more rewarding personally than I ever imagined it would be. What are the reasons you have switched to a plant based diet?