“Are you vegan?” is one of the most asked questions I get on social media — so I thought I’d finally dive in and answer. But first, a little bit of history ...
Ever since I was a small child, I remember feeling a pit in my stomach and an uneasiness around meat — particularly handling raw meat (I often helped cook family meals from a young age). I knew it was the flesh of a once living innocent animal, and something about that just didn’t sit right. But growing up I just figured: “Since everyone does it, it must be OK. After all, the animals we eat are innately different than the animals we love, right? I‘m not actually harming anything myself, and it’s not like there is anything I can do about it anyway” (I didn’t understand the concept of supply and demand back then).
When I went to university I studied anthropology (undergrad then grad school), and that’s when things first shifted for me.
I was fascinated by the way that all around the world and for all of history, it has been our social conditioning (through culture, religious and geographical context, politics and more) that dictates what we see as “food”. For example, cows are sacred to some, food to others. Dogs are pets to some, food to others. Cats are pets to some, food to others. Insects are pests to some, food to others. Pigs are unclean and inedible to some, food to others. I also studied in-depth humanity’s history of genocide, slavery, terrorism, and war, and found my own justification for eating animals uncomfortably similar to the rationals that have been used throughout time to deem groups of humans as “other” and justify their inhumane treatment or death.
So I started to ask myself: if I were to step outside of my social conditioning, how do I REALLY feel, deep down, about consuming animal products?
Does this uplift me or create internal conflict? If I were to have to kill this animal myself (or kill/take it’s babies and then kill it at a later date, as in the case of animal by-products like eggs and dairy) — could I? Why do I love my dog so much but then eat other animals, who have equally complex emotional and social lives, and who — however “humane” their treatment and slaughter are — really don’t want to die?
Serendipitously, around this time (2009) I landed a job working at a vegan restaurant. I didn’t even know what “vegan” meant at first, and the whole idea seemed totally bizarre at best (where do you get your protein and calcium!?). But I was a broke student who’d just moved out trying to pay my way through school, and the job came with a free yoga membership, so I was IN. Through working there I learned the ins and outs of making delicious plant-based recipes, and I was hooked. I couldn’t believe how yummy everything was and all the delicious foods I’d been missing out on.
I also started following the “Oh She Glows” blog at this time and resonated deeply with Angela’s story — I felt so much happier about what I was putting in my body and much of my food obsessions/calorie counting melted away as I become more focused on fuelling my body with clean, nutrient-dense foods. I also felt healthier; before changing my diet I had frequent headaches, constipation, hair loss, acne, congestion, got a bad cold at least a couple times a year and even strep throat on occasion and pneumonia once. It could totally be coincidence (or maybe partly the yoga or other lifestyle changes), but since then I’ve not been sick ever — the odd time I’ve felt a cold coming on I fight it off within a day or two. I haven’t needed to used pain relievers in my entire adult life, except during my c-section recoveries. My hair is the thickest it's ever been. I only get occasional pimples, even with being off birth control for the past 5 years.
And yet, even though I’ve now eaten a mainly plant-based diet for over a decade, I only recently started to identify as vegan.
This is because, although I would eat vegan at home, when eating out, traveling or in some social and family situations I would eat non-vegan simply to fit in (hardcore people pleaser over here). It took me this long to finally find my voice and trust my intuition — and let me tell you, it feels AMAZING. It's so freeing to feel confident enough to do what feels natural and right in my heart, without worrying about what others' opinions may be. To my surprise, everyone has been supportive and even interested in learning more. My biggest regret is not coming out publicly sooner.
This only grazes the surface, but I hope I’ve answered some questions and would be happy to share more if you are interested. I definitely don’t think you need to be vegan to be healthy, or that being vegan will make you automatically healthy (there's plenty of vegan junk food!), but for me, it’s how I feel healthiest in mind, body, and spirit. I also recognize that many forms of non-animal agriculture, be it fruits, vegetables or grains can cause harm to wildlife and natural ecosystems. I don't think I can aspire to cause absolutely no harm through living a vegan lifestyle, but I do hope to at least reduce my impact and unnecessary suffering as much a possible.
These are my personal views and journey and I definitely don’t expect they’ll resonate with everyone.
I also realize I’m very privileged to have access to such a variety of foods and even get to make these choices. But if nothing else, I hope you feel more empowered to trust your intuition. Every time you find yourself having to make a hard decision in any situation, ask yourself: “If I were to step outside of my social conditioning — all of the things I've been told or taught, all of the clever marketing schemes and normative ideas about the way things “should” be — how do I REALLY feel, deep down”. Journal about it, speak about it and act on it.
Please, don't wait as long as I did to do what you feel called towards in your heart. Be who YOU are. ️