Here come the warnings. I have kept this page separate from the rest of my blog so that those who just want to view my recipes can without being bombarded by the heavier topics surrounding veganism. However, there is a more serious side to this big lifestyle change I’ve undertaken, and I don’t feel that I can keep quiet about it much longer. I already feel that I’ve kept a few of my friends in the dark too long.
No one is making you read this page. If you cannot bear to hear someone explaining why they are vegan, then don’t read any further. This page is here so that others can understand where I’m coming from, and to help people who are struggling with their own decisions related to vegetarianism and veganism. This has been a hard page for me to get around to writing because I feel very vulnerable writing it. So, if you have genuine question or comment for me, feel free to leave it, but if you’re just looking for someone to bash, just stop reading here.
Why I’ve Chosen to be Vegan
I began as a vegetarian, like many people do. In fact, I was vegetarian primarily because it made me feel healthier, and not because I was trying to help the animals. I used to love how the phrase “I’m vegetarian for health reasons” would get me out of so many arguements and awkward situations. When I look back at this, I am a little suprised at myself.
I also happen to be both lactose intolerant, and allergic to casein (a protien found in milk). I observed that it would be a good idea to look into some vegetarian recipes without dairy, and where better to turn than to some vegan cooking information? In the process of researching recipes, I downloaded Colleen Patrick-Goudreau’s podcast, Compassionate Cooks- Vegetarian Food for Thought (cue eye rolls from other vegans who have heard that one before a trillion times). When I realized that it wasn’t a list of recipes, I almost deleted it, but I had always wanted to understand why vegans chose to be vegans, and saw this as an oppertunity to find out in a very safe environment. I mean, if something she said seemed ridiculous, all I had to do was stop listening, right?
Yet, I really didn’t expect her words to have the impact on me that they did. Every thing she said made perfect sense. I realized that I agreed with everything she was arguing for, and I began to question my own actions. Her work is both well-reasearched, and very kind and heartfelt. She never made me feel that I was an inferior person for not being vegan. She never seemed to use “scare tactics”; while she did in fact share some very horrific information about the treatment of animals, she always warned you before doing so, so that you were always the one making the final choice to listen.
Yet, veganims still seemed like such a big undertaking.
What really did it for me was when I finally was able to piece together the connection between my own emotional walls that I had put up, and the cruelty that humankind are able to exhibit becaue of these emotional walls. There was actually a little series of events that lead to my “awakening” as Colleen might say (yes, aware that it’s corny use of language, but once you’ve felt it, you know there really isn’t any better word).
Story time. I was working on a self-designed project for my Education-Aesthetics class (aesthetics as in the study of art forms, how they engage us, and their use in the education system, not as in hair and nails). Due to some questions raised in a previous Art History class, I had decided to try and see if I could change my own response to a style known as chromatic abstraction. Here’s a little exerpt from the beginning of my paper to explain what was going on.
“I have passed by the same painting literally hundreds of times in my life, and never really noticed it. Hanging in the . . . Library is a large picture on canvas, about five feet by six. It is an original by Kenneth Lochhead called Night Ochre that was produced in the mid 60′s. In its center is a tan square, squeezed between two stripes of bluish grey and orange, all of which is outlined in a thick navy border. This style of painting is called chromatic abstraction, and it has never caught my attention. However, my Art History 100 professor took the time to explain how this style came about. She told us that this very simplified form of painting with no identifiable subject was a response to the art that came out of the Holocaust and WWII. This art was very busy, traumatic and emotional, so the responding art movement sought to find escape in simplicity and abstract, non-associational forms.
Upon hearing my professor’s explanation of chromatic abstractionism, I started to question if the reason this art is often put down these days is because of our society’s changed worldview. Admittedly, a lot of us, even art students who are supposed to be able to appreciate a wide range of styles, look at these sparsely covered canvases and think to ourselves, “Any five year old could have done that.” However, we do not harbour the same views as those people who lived through WWII. We are rarely bombarded by the maelstrom of emotions that people in the late 40′s and early 50′s were when they viewed art. Perhaps our society has lost the ability to appreciate such simple artwork. If this is true, then is there any way to experience this art’s impact today? I decided I would immerse myself in the history and art of WWII, and view the painting at my library again with these different emotions and thoughts present in me.”
That’s just what I did. I spent a morning where I immersed myself with thougths of the holocaust. I avoided talking to anyone, so that my mind couldn’t wander, watched Nuit et Brouillard, and sat and studied artwork responding to the holocaust, reading about the information behind these bleak, often terrifying art pieces.
My dad showed particular interest in my project. He read over my paper, and then we discussed what feelings had gone through my mind. I told him about the disgust, and the sorrow, and the feelings of being overwhelmed by all the faces I had seen. Then, he asked the terrible question: “Did you cry?”
“Well . . . no. I just don’t usually cry when I study these kinds of things, even when I’m upset.”
“Ah. Then you didn’t really feel it.”
I was livid. How dare he call me insensitive! Yet, I knew he was right. I began to realize that somewhere inside of me, there was an emotional block. Which tied right back to what Colleen had to say about how we block out emotions in order to carry on with the cruelty inherent in any industry that exploits living beings. In order to be involved in such cruelty within our everyday practices such as what we eat and wear, we have to block out a great deal of our own emotions.
Yet, I hadn’t broken through those emotional barriers yet. I remember when all of the pieces finally fell together for me. I was listening to one of Colleen’s podcasts on the treatment of pigs, one which is very graphic and I do believe she had warned the listener only to proceed if they felt they were up to it. As she described some of the horrors of the slaughterhouse (you’ll have to listen to it yourself, it really is too much for me to type here), I felt overwhelmed with sadness for the victims of these acts. For the first time in ages, I cried for another living being’s suffering. I’m beginning to cry as I write this and recall the memory. I also began to cry for humankind, and the realization that this violence woven into our lives can only bring further hurt and suffering. I cried as I made connections between the treatment of the pigs, and the treatment of the Jewish people during the holocaust. It became clear to me that the key to eliminating cruelty and suffering in this world was to remove the cruelty from our everyday lifestyles, so that we don’t have those emotional blocks in place anymore, and so that the injustice we inevitably cause stops!
After I was done all that crying, I felt so much more awake, aware, and alive than I had in ages. I realized that my crying wasn’t an act of weakness that I had to supress like I once thought it was. I knew that I would be a vegan someday, even if I didn’t know how to take that jump just yet. I did in fact go through the process in stages, because I was still feeling very overwhelmed by the whole idea, and didn’t know how my family would take it (which, to be honest, after they got over the inital suprise, they all took it incredibly well, and sometimes I have to just stop and thank them profusely for their support). I started by telling everyone that I wasn’t eating dairy products any more. Then I just quietly eliminated eggs from my diet without creating too much rucous, so that when people told me it was impossible, I could remind them that I was already doing it, and that I was getting along just fine. Then came the scary work of begining to learn to read and decode ingredients on labels. That was quite overwhelming, and honestly, the easiest thing to do was just to stick with basic foods I had cooked myself instead of relying on pre-packaged, processed food items. Besides, it is a far healthier way to eat. Once I had removed all animal products from my diet, I started to examine the rest of my life, such as my clothing, my bath products, and so on. It took me until sometime near the end of July (’08), I believe, to start using the word “vegan” to describe myself with some confidence, but that day did finally come. I did it. It really isn’t as impossible as it may sound at first, especially if you remember that the process isn’t about beating yourself up constantly, but rather about putting forth a genuine effort to live as humanely as possible.
Now, I feel like a far more whole person. I belive that I can honestly feel emotions in a way that I simply couldn’t before. I have a new understanding of compassion. I am more content with my whole life, because I know I am living in a manner that my heart truly endorses. All the little puzzle pieces that make up my life just seem to fit together better. It is so wonderful being vegan!
I began this blog before I was vegan so that I would have a place to start sharing some of my food adventures, boosting my own enthusiasm and confidence in a change that I was a little nervous about, and giving me a community to look to for support. Though, I found that by my second or third post, I was actually eating a completely vegan diet already, and didn’t even need to worry about using this as a resource to boost my confidence in veganism. So far, I’ve really enjoyed having this little outlet for my enthusiasm for cooking and foods. I hope that enthusiasm comes through, and is spread to others just beginning to dip their toes into the lake o’ veganism themselves.