Today (March 29) is the anniversary of the most important day of my life. I consider my birthday less important and no national or even cultural holiday matters more to me than this very day. My birthday was chosen for me and unearned. Holidays are symbols of events, victories, and tragedies that happened years before I was even born. This day however is the one I chose on my own, one I decided I would make my own. As of today, consider me as having vegan for one full year.
Well, technically speaking, perhaps it’s not accurate to say that I’ve been vegan for a year. There was that day where I ate a piece of lamb meat in my falafel plate (unknowingly) because the halal vendor accidentally put it in there. How about that one time where I tried and tried but out of courtesy ultimately failed to reject a cheese-filled tacos from the mother of a student I was tutoring? I also can’t forget that I didn’t consider honey as an issue until fairly recently (a month ago), and that I’m still carrying around a leather wallet.
Do I even have a right to call myself vegan?
It hasn’t been a perfect journey.
The truth though is that no journey is.
I was reminded of this truth time and time again through my favorite vegan resource, “The Vegetarian Food for Thought: Compassionate Cooks,” a podcast created and hosted by the renown vegan author and activist Colleen Patrick-Goodreau. I was always motivated whenever she repeated, “Don’t do nothing because you can’t do everything; do something, anything!” That message is important because veganism, like almost every other important thing in life, is not about being perfect. If we humans couldn’t start anything unless we were certain we could be perfect at it the very first time we try something, we never would be able to get anything done. Every journey has its missteps, its obstacles, and those moments where we felt like going back and we actually did start going back a bit, but if ultimately, we are making progress – even tiny, tiny progress – the journey is more than worth it.
My journey truly began when I was in high school as a 9th grader. That was when I came across reading about how many Native American tribes and cultures respected not only their land but also the other animals on it. I read poems written by the natives praising the prairie, their diary entries that apologized to the buffalos and promising to make sure their killing was in vain by utilizing all parts of the buffalo’s body, down to its hooves. I was beyond inspired by the natives’ compassion, and that’s why soon afterwards, every time I ate meat, I felt guilty. I constantly asked myself, “Does my existence deserve the suffering and the death of other animals? Even if I lived a life that was truly beneficial to other human beings, to the planet, and to other animals themselves, could I really face the animals that died on the behalf of my hunger and tell them thank you? What if I was born as one of those animals? What then could I say about humans who gorged on the flesh of my family?”
I am deeply ashamed that it took me until March 29, 2010 for me to feel a pang of guilt so strong that I couldn’t finish the box of KFC chickens laid out in front of me. I downed shot after shot of vodka to fight back the emotions within me and I rationalized, “I feel sorry for them. I will make their lives worth it by living a life that they would be proud of. I will be environmentally conscious. I recycle regularly, certain more often than average Americans.” I sat there mumbling these thoughts to myself but no matter how intoxicated with alcohol I became, I couldn’t pick up any more chicken pieces. It’s not that I wasn’t hungry; it’s just that I hated myself for continuing this. How can I live with myself after this? I cried, I begged forgiveness, I pictured other people chewing on hamburgers fine without any feeling of remorse, trying to make myself believe that this was normal, that this was okay.
That box of KFC was the last box of KFC I’ve ever had. I gave up my fast food restaurant and many other things, to live a life that I could tolerate for myself. I couldn’t find a reason why some animals should be our meals (cows, chickens, ducks, sheep, goats, salmon, etc), why some animals should be our slaves and torture victims, but that some animals like dogs and cats should be pets and not food. If I couldn’t find an acceptable justification, then I simply could no longer live the life of an omnivore.
I also began this journey with a consideration of the environment. I kept hearing things about how gases from cattle contribute greatly to global warming and climate change. So I thought, well, if all humans decided to not eat cows, there would be no need to herd them into large factories or farms like that. But wait, they would still need to be herded into crowded spaces if humans have a demand for their milk. This kind of reasoning is what led me to become a vegan, not a vegetarian. It was only after I considered the environmental harms of meat/dairy production that I actually ended up thinking about the suffering of animals. I just didn’t know much about it. Back then, I knew nothing about battery cages, the lies of “organic and free range farming,” bycatch in the fishing industry, the dumping of toxic waste, the genetic modifications all animals have to suffer, the origin of the SARS virus and the H1N1 flu (that’s right; human meat consumption has had a direct impact on the outbreak of various health epidemics), the unethical pharmaceutical trials, etc.
The more I learned about what human industries have done to make an intelligent animal into nothing more than a dead carcass that could be served to us as steak and noodle soup, the more I realized, I can’t not be vegan.
It’s been an extremely challenging journey, especially because no one I know personally is a vegan. I ended up inspiring my mom to not eat meat (though she still enjoys fish infrequently), but I never expected that my dietary change would also mean having to represent and symbolize a political and social stance that majority of people around me found to be strange and radical. This was the most difficult part of my journey, having no support, and living in a society where majority of people are not even vegetarians.
Other hassles existed sure, like always having to cook my own meals because nothing served in a nearby restaurant was vegan (vegetarian maybe, but not vegan), but I now enjoy cooking and it never takes me longer than twenty-five minutes. I’m healthier than ever before, and I am proud to make sure even my minute daily actions reflect the values I believe in, that compassion is important not only for our own species but other animal beings who directly and indirectly shape and improve our lives everyday.
As I continue this journey, I hope I can be more confident in speaking the truth about my own values. It’s clear to me now that I can live it, but to inspire others to learn the truth for themselves, that’s what I would need to work on. So far, it’s been a personal journey and I’ve been a coward to really say more than what I need to say about it to other people. Now, though I realize that the issue of factory farming and animal cruelty is one that has global impacts. More than 40% of the negative impacts to the earth’s atmosphere and environment can be attributed to animal agriculture, and no other factor is as responsible for global health epidemics as human’s daily production and consumption of animal products.
I believe that everyone in the world has a right to know what exactly they’re putting in their mouths. If they can still eat it even after becoming aware, I say, fine, that’s their life choice, but to continue doing so without knowing, without caring, I hope at the very least, that can be changed.
I am now one-year-old as a vegan, a mere infant. I have so much to learn, so much to awaken to, so much to practice, and I hope that every day, more and more people can share this incredible journey with me.