I think it's fitting that my veganniversary is on November 1st, which happens to be World Vegan Day. I didn't even know about that when my boyfriend (now fiance) and I decided to make November 1st our official start date for our vegan journey. We watched Gary Yourofsky's Best Speech You Will Ever Hear on YouTube, which gave us the final push and resolve to make the full transition from vegetarian to vegan.
Now, one year later, I reflect on my journey to veganism: the different stages I've gone through (as Colleen Patrick-Goudreau presents in her podcast--check it out at the bottom of this post), the ongoing struggle to remain hopeful in an overwhelmingly cruel world, my unexpected culinary skills, the joy of finding new flavors and ingredients in vegan dishes, increasing activism, and so much more.
Here's what I've learned over one year as a vegan:
The Most Selfless Decision I've Made in My Life
Becoming vegan was the single biggest, most selfless thing I've done--for animals and for the environment. It's also one of the most significant decisions I've made in my life because it wasn't just a diet--it was a lifestyle change. I did it because I didn't want to take part in the torture, exploitation and violent killing of animals--the most abused innocents on this planet. (And remember, even "humanely raised meat" or "cage-free eggs" is just deceptive marketing jargon--it always ends in violence and subjects animals to extreme suffering whether through transport, being torn away from their mothers/families, or the cramped conditions of a "cage-free" environment.)
From Compartmentalizing Eating Meat to Compartmentalizing Seeing Others Eating Meat
The hardest part about being vegan is not the absence of certain foods, it's trying to reconcile how you feel about and see others, especially friends and family, who continue to eat meat, dairy and eggs even after you've told them or shown them the reality of slaughterhouses and animal agriculture. It honestly feels like a slap in the face whenever they eat that stuff around you, knowing how you feel about it and the immense cruelty involved. I know I shouldn't take it personally, but I guess you just become more sensitive to A LOT of things when you're vegan--and animal suffering becomes your suffering.
By becoming vegan, you stop compartmentalizing your guilt because you no longer have to ignore or deny the fact animals were horribly mistreated, abused and killed for your cravings and convenience.
HOWEVER, by becoming vegan, you end up having to compartmentalize once again in order to ignore the fact that many friends and loved ones still continue eating meat, dairy and eggs despite what you've told and shown them.
I also can't look at cheese or pizza without the images of grotesquely swollen udders of dairy cows treated as breeding machines. I can't look at bacon or SPAM without having scenes flash through my mind of pigs trampling on each other and squealing for their lives during transport, or seeing a bloody dying piglet whose head was smashed against concrete because he/she wasn't fit for processing. I can't see a chicken nugget or egg without seeing 'broiler' chickens hanging by their feet as they go through the high-speed kill line to have their throats slit, or chicks ground up alive, or mummified egg-laying hens.
Veganism is a Continuous Journey with Different Stages You Waver Through
As I mentioned earlier, there are different stages of veganism, as Colleen Patrick-Goudreau (aka The Joyful Vegan) explains (it's not necessarily chronological and you can linger on certain stages throughout the journey or bounce around):
The 10 Stages You Go Through When You Stop Eating Animals:
- Stage 1: Validation - Been there, done that
- Stage 2: Guilt - Yes, I still have this from time to time but my activism and decision to become vegan overcomes it
- Stage 3: Coming Out - Never really made a huge announcement about it (I didn't want to perpetuate the stereotype/joke: How do you know someone's vegan? They'll tell you.)
- Stage 4: Evangelism - I've been in this stage for a while now and don't see how I could ever really move past it knowing what I know about the plight of animals
- Stage 5: Grief (Anger and Sorrow) - I'm also very much in this stage and it's a constant struggle trying to overcome it
- Stage 6: Connection/Finding Community - Found!
- Stage 7: Communication/Finding Your Voice - Found!
- Stage 8: Expansion (of Awareness and Skills) - Still working on fine-tuning this
- Stage 9: Advocacy - This will always be a work in progress
- Stage 10: Integration and Adaptation - Continuous work in progress
Finding My Voice
I never really voiced my opinions unless I was with close friends and family because I was always worried about what people think. It wasn't until I became vegan that I finally found my voice by being a voice for animals. It has emboldened me to speak my mind when speaking up for them. Little by little, I am finding more confidence and courage in this department, but I still have a long way to go--especially when I see other activists out there who are so much more outspoken and direct.
Vegan Food Opens Doors to a Whole New World of Foods and Flavors
Eating a meat-, dairy- and egg-based diet is like only using 1/4 of your brain. When you become vegan, you open yourself up to a whole new world of flavors and ingredients you didn't even know existed. It's like a culinary enlightenment. It also forces you to be more creative when cooking, and speaking of cooking, I was never one who enjoyed it. Now I actually do--of course, I still get lazy sometimes--but I definitely have newfound appreciation for it.
Who knew that nutritional yeast can give your foods a cheddar cheesey flavor? And who knew that kelp noodles could actually take the place of rice noodles, that cashew or almond cheese makes you forget you ever missed cruelly-derived cow's cheese in the first place, and that garbanzo beans (chickpeas) and chia seeds were great egg substitutes when baking??
Flu Season? What's That?
I used to get sick all the time. After dropping meat from my diet, it took about 4 years to finally get hit with a bug that made me bed-ridden for a few days, but I got better on my own without seeing a doctor or taking antibiotics. Healthy plant-based food truly heals. I also really believe that aside from all the acidification in your body from eating meat, antibiotics pumped into sickly animals just so they survive long enough to be killed is what's causing so many people to get sick.
Activism and Challenging My Introversion
I am the definition of an introvert. I'm also really shy (FYI, there's a difference between the two--not all introverts are shy). But just like I've found my voice by speaking up for the animals, I'm also challenging my introversion by becoming more active within the vegan and animal activism community.
Whenever my introverted self tries to interfere, I remind myself that it's for the animals. The animal cause is my cause. Those fighting for the animals are already a minority, so if we don't stand up for them, who else will?
I also learned that surrounding yourself with likeminded animal lovers (not just those who say they love animals but eat and wear them, and contribute to their suffering) is necessary in order to remain hopeful and not spiral towards depression (which is really easy to do when you're constantly reading and hearing about or seeing videos of the sadistic abuse and violence toward animals all over the world).
You need to connect with other vegans and animal rights activists so that you don't feel isolated or helpless. That way you are reminded daily that there are others around the world who care just as much about animals and are fighting to help them.
Veganniversaries and Birthdays: Celebrations of Life
Veganniversaries should be celebrated just as much as birthdays. After all, both are celebrations of LIFE--it's just that veganniversary is a celebration of not having an ounce of cruelly-derived product or food enter your body. THAT is something to be celebrated every day, but more so on your veganniversary.
And just like birthdays call for a song (well, I guess that depends on if you're a fan of being sung to at restaurants and turning beet red), here's a delightful veganniversary song and video I found through The Vegan Independent, originally posted by Veganthused.