Friday, November 16, 2007

My vegan story.

A while back, Yarn Ho suggested that I do a post about how I made the transition to veganism, and so, here it is. To tell the truth, I'm removed enough from that stage in my life to a point that I really had to think about how it all happened!

Let's go back a ways. My sociopolitical "awakening" started back in high school, I think. I was always a big reader; read the newspaper religiously, watched the national news on tv, read Newsweek, things like that. When i got to high school, I got involved in Model Legislature, which is exactly what it sounds like. Researching and writing bills, arguing policy- fun stuff! No, really, it was! It was at this point in life that I discovered my more liberal tendencies- mostly in the form of a general desire to help people, to do the right thing.

This all spilled over into college, where I got involved with pro-choice groups on campus, and started running with the theatre kids, who were about as liberal as one could be at a tiny conservative liberal arts school in Amish country. This was when I really got to know my first vegetarians- veganism wasn't even really a presence at that point, in the early 90s. I admired their commitment, but didn't give it much thought beyond that.

Anyways, fast forward a few years. I dropped out of college and ended up just outside of Harrisburg, PA. I got a job as a dishwasher, and then a cook, at an "Irish pub". This was when it really started to happen. I got really sick- always having to wake up in the middle of the night and vomit up whatever dinner I had scarfed down when I got home, and sometimes having it come out the other end as well (sorry to be graphic, but this part is important). I was absolutely miserable. It wasn't until i quit that job and got one with actual health insurance that I discovered that I had a condition that caused my stomach to create too much acid. Eating right before bed only exacerbated that and was the cause of my troubles. I started on an acid-blocking medication, which greatly lessened the problem.

I was still having issues though. Even with the medication, I would occasionally end up praying to the porcelain god. I remember a particularly gruesome night in Pittsburgh after a trip to Bob Evans. It was at this point, I started to think about vegetarianism. Anything sounded better than puking my guts up for the rest of my life.

As a kid, I'd never been a big fan of meat. I would never eat steak or chicken on the bone, always preferring it to be in the form of some sort of patty or other unnatural shape. There was just something about the meat that made me gag (literally) when it was in that "natural" form.

So I did some research, declared myself a vegetarian to friends and loved ones, and dove in. It wasn't easy. I was spending a lot of time around avowed hunters and carnivores who either ridiculed me or were just no help at all. And worst of all, I didn't know any vegetarians to help me through the transition. So I failed miserably. Twice.

A year later, I was making big changes in my life. I was single, I had started into therapy and getting treatment for ADHD, and was generally starting anew. One of the good/bad things about a lot of ADHD drugs is that they are based on amphetamines, and absolutely kill your appetite. I was eating like crap, when I did eat, and lost about 20 pounds very, very quickly. The worst part was that it took me months to notice this. I changed meds immediately and decided to once again start the transition to vegetarianism. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired, and I felt like this was the way to go.

A couple of months later, I became friends with my first vegan. This was the kick in the pants I needed. She pointed me towards literature online and resources that would help me kick meat for good. I started to learn about animal testing and animal abuse in the entertainment industry (both of which I had known about, but been able to gloss over before), and began to understand how the love for animals I'd always possessed meshed with my innate sense of justice, and how blind I'd been to the connection between the animals I loved and the animals I was eating. I started to really understand what George Bernard Shaw meant when he said "Animals are my friends. And I don't eat my friends."

It was probably another year before I finally went vegan myself. Between my own cognitive dissonance and the other issues I was dealing with at the time, I just wanted to take it slowly. The "ah-ha!" moment came one day when I was feeling sort of queasy after eating some cheese and I thought "Wait a second. I'm lactose intolerant. What the hell am I doing?" Not a glamorous moment, I'll admit, but it worked! From that day forth, I've been vegan.

This was around the same time I joined the Vegan Represent forums, which quickly became my vegan support system. I made friends who were asking the same questions I was, got good, accurate information about food and ethics, and was able to fess up when I'd made a mistake, without being judged. I began to feel comfortable with a belief system that valued all living creatures, and it helped me finally feel a lot more comfortable in my own skin.

Yarn Ho once said to me "Stegan," (yes, she calls me Stegan in real life too) "I'm glad you're not one of THOSE vegans." By which she meant that I wasn't always being preachy or judgmental, and I let my friends be who they were, without making them feel like I felt I was superior to them.

I'm glad that my friends see me that way, and I'm glad that I make it look easy. But as vegan chai recently put it, in far more eloquent terms than I, it's definitely not easy. It takes effort sometimes to keep your opinions to yourself in the interests of harmony, and it takes serious understanding to see that everyone's got to find their own path, and if you don't give them the space to do it, not only will they not find it, they're likely to resent you for your attitude.

I love my friends and family, and I want them to be happy. If they look at me as an example and decide to try making steps towards veg*nism, fantastic. But I do try and make a conscious effort not to force them down that way. Veganism is a belief system, not a religion. You want other people to agree with your belief systems, and you want to seek out others who do, but you want them to do it for their own reasons, not because they feel like you forced them to.

This got a little rambly, but I hope it made sense. I would love for the whole world to be vegan, I really would. And I hope all of you reading this do your own research and begin the journey. But what's more important to me is that you're good people who are kind to others. The rest will come in its own sweet time. I hope. :)


Anonymous said...

it's been really good to read other people's vegan stories. thanks for sharing!

yarnho said...

That was amazing. Thank you so much for sharing. I really am glad you are one of THOSE vegans and not the other kind. You serve to inspire not to bend others to your will for the sake of your beliefs. No one wants to deal with that. Besides, you are the best vegan chef around (next to Michelle)... lets have some peanut butter thingees!