This is dreadful! Not only the suffering and death of the animals, but that man suppresses in himself, unnecessarily, the highest spiritual capacity – that of sympathy and pity towards living creatures like himself – and by violating his own feelings becomes cruel. – Leo Tolstoy
“It’s inevitable,” my boyfriend said to me late last year, on the prospect of us becoming vegan. We’d recently gotten deep into the Rich Roll Podcast, and the evidence for a plant-based diet was mounting. “Yeah,” I sighed, already mourning the loss of cheeseburgers and gooey chocolate chip cookies. “You’re probably right.”
He was right. He was so right. After six months of edging towards it, I’ve now been a strict vegan for exactly one month, and I’m never looking back.
Well, that’s not true. I’m looking back right now, on my blog, because it’s actually really important for me to understand why I’m making this bold, life-changing choice. Just as it took lots of processing for me to come to the decision to give up alcohol. And sugar. And crazy obsessive exercise. You see, it’s all interconnected. Profoundly interconnected.
This isn’t my first foray into the land of almond milk and agave. My earliest attempt at vegetarianism came in grade school, around the age of 8 or 9. The epiphany that meat was the same thing as the cuddly animals I loved so much, only murdered, came from my best friend in the whole world, Michala Heyford. I was so shocked by this sudden realization that I came home and proclaimed that I wanted to be a vegetarian.
“Well, then, you’ll have to cook your own meals,” my mom replied. And that was the end of that. No more questioning the cuddly animals come edible flesh. I was destined to be an omnivore. (Not that I blame my mom in the slightest – my conviction was obviously weak, and she was only operating within the same paradigm as most of our planet since the dawn of animal agriculture.)
After that five hour stint, I remained an avid animal eater until November of 2012, when I watched Forks Over Knives. I honestly barely remember the film now, because I was deep in my alcohol addiction and body obsession, but it jarred me enough that I went vegan for a month, and vegetarian for a year.
During that time, I remember my conscious feeling way better. It seemed pretty straightforward to me – factory farming was evil, I wanted no part in it, so the easiest way was to stop eating meat. I still didn’t quite understand the cruelty of dairy and eggs, so I reintroduced those, eating only “organic,” but otherwise I felt solid about my decision.
So why did I start consuming meat again with reckless abandon? Because my hair was falling out. And I felt fatigued. And I was self-consumed. But instead of re-evaluating my diet, which was completely out of whack thanks to my eating disorder and alcohol consumption, I just assumed it was because I wasn’t getting animal protein. WRONG. (This is one of the major fallacies about nutrition that helps maintain the status quo. Look up Scott Jurek, Rich Roll, Tony Gonzalez, or any of the other incredible vegan athletes if you don’t believe me.)
Anyway, fast forward to last summer, when my body felt so broken I thought I must be suffering from a chronic disease. Every day I felt so tired and so foggy and so sick that I thought I must be dying.
And you know something? I was right. I did have a chronic disease. A few, actually: alcoholism, food and sugar addiction, and exercise bulimia. And I was dying. Slowly, maybe, but make no mistake I was killing my body and my spirit. At my physical last September my cholesterol was through the roof and I was on the borderline of pre-diabetes. At 29!
By my 30th birthday, I was starting to think a little more clearly, having given up alcohol, but I still fumbled my way through the dark. It wasn’t until I finally completely quit sugar and admitted my exercise addiction that the curtain began to lift. And boy, has it been hard to see the truth.
But there it is, plain as day: for 30 years, I have been complicit in humanity’s darkest, cruelest, most ruthless practice – animal agriculture. As harsh as that sounds, it is the capital T Truth. And the consequences of this culturally sanctioned violence prove it — it’s destroying our planet and ourselves.
What started as a choice made out of concern for my personal health quickly morphed into something much greater. The more I read and watched, the more my mind exploded. One pound of beef requires thousands of gallons of water?? 80% of deforestation in the Amazon is because of CATTLE GRAZING?? Animal products cause cardiovascular disease and cancer?? (Okay, I knew that last one.) The idea that I’d given up dairy in November for my skin, congestion, and digestion now seemed positively quaint.
With each new source I consumed, I grew deeper and deeper in my conviction on becoming vegan. Eating Animals showed me there was no such think as humane slaughter or family-run farms in this country. I used to order Niman Ranch menu items with a little less guilt, but how could I now that I knew that Bill Niman won’t eat meat from there?
Cowspiracy taught me the extent to which the media, government, and even environmental companies will go to protect animal agribusiness, even though it’s the leading cause of global warming, ocean dead zones, species extinction, water shortages, you name it!!
And then there was The World Peace Diet. Recommended to me by one of the gentlest souls I know, I took to this book like a fish takes to water (where it should always be!) With each chapter, the dots started to connect for me in a way that they never have before. EVER. I mean, the Sanskrit word for war translates to desire for cattle. FOR CATTLE. #mindblown
I spent full days reading The World Peace Diet because I kept getting lost in rabbit holes as I looked things up to do further research, stumbling across gems like this treaty from Plutarch. If ever you’ve questioned why there’s so much suffering in this world, from war, to slavery, to rape, to poverty (both economic and spiritual), look no further than this incredible book.
It’s the Golden Rule, folks, simple as that. Do unto others as you would have done unto you. What clearer example of “reaping what you sow” can we have then animal agriculture? We enslave and kill animals, and thus we enslave and kill ourselves. It’s not rocket science what needs to be done. I’m no Bible Truther, but if only we could all take this passage from Genesis 1.29 literally: Then God said,”Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you.” (Yes, the Garden of Eden was vegan.)
So how to make sense of this wealth of information when you’ve been participating in it your whole life? Well, I can tell you, it ain’t easy. Paradigm shifts rarely are. I’ve broken down in sobs dozens of times in the past few months, over the devastation that I’ve happily, mindlessly been a part of. Last night as I listened to birds and watched bats flit through the palm trees, I cried as I said a prayer for all of the animals I’d been an assassin to.
This has without a doubt been the most painful awakening I’ve ever gone through. I look around me and now I can’t help but see it everywhere – the misery in the grocery stores, at restaurants, on the plates of my loved ones, on my feet. Sometimes I just want to scream at the insanity of it all, at the wretchedness at the blackened core of our herding tradition, but then I think of Gandhi and my heart softens. After all, that is what is at the core of veganism. Compassion. For all sentient beings.
And that is ultimately what carries me through. What helps me knock down the walls that have been erected around my soul. What mends the gulf that’s been created by my inherently violent food choices, between who I am and who I want to be. What allows there to be mercy for myself and others, for we know not what we do. But now that I finally do know, there’s nowhere to run and no turning back.
The mission is clear. It’s time for me to take a stand. To practice loving-kindness, with my thoughts, with my words, with my actions. Every day, every meal.
Oh, and I almost forgot! While it pales in comparison to the softening of my heart and the spiritual connectedness I’m now experiencing with the Earth, it’s still worth mentioning: I’ve never felt more at peace with my body. Finally free from the toxic trifecta of alcohol, sugar, and animal foods, I am energized, clear-headed, and healthy. Who woulda thunk?