But we were talking about April 6, weren't we? (Never let a gardener talk about her garden unless you're willing to sit back and listen to some obnoxious motherly blabbering.)
April 6 was the day, last year, when I saw factory farm and Kosher farm footage of the meat, dairy, and egg industries. I was done. No wondering, no questioning. D-U-N, done. I haven't knowingly eaten meat, eggs, or dairy since that date.
One of the most common questions any plant-eater gets -- aside from "Where do you get your protein?" -- is "So why did you decide to go vegan?"
So the obvious answer here is the video. But there was actually a lot that led up to that point, and I recently made a list of the things that brought me slowly in that direction. Here they are in chronological order:
The amazing vegan lead singer of The Smiths was my major celebrity crush throughout high school. It didn't matter that he was gay/asexual. (Was it ever determined?) I loved that man and knew he was destined to be my soulmate, if we could only meet up somehow.
One of his best records was Meat is Murder, which contained the song of the same name. Here are the lyrics:
Heifer whines could be human cries
Closer comes the screaming knife
This beautiful creature must die
This beautiful creature must die
A death for no reason
And death for no reason is MURDER
And the flesh you so fancifully fry
Is not succulent, tasty or kind
It's death for no reason
And death for no reason is MURDER
And the calf that you carve with a smile
And the turkey you festively slice
Do you know how animals die ?
Kitchen aromas aren't very homely
It's not "comforting", cheery or kind
It's sizzling blood and the unholy stench
It's not "natural", "normal" or kind
The flesh you so fancifully fry
The meat in your mouth
As you savour the flavour
NO, NO, NO, IT'S MURDER
NO, NO, NO, IT'S MURDER
Oh ... and who hears when animals cry?
So combine such stark lyrics with teenage angst, and you've got a recipe for a future vegetarian. I remember briefly going veg because of this album, but it was hard to do then with everybody else eating meat and me not knowing how to cook yet. So I fell right back into my meat-eating habits.
2) Vegetarians and Vegans I Met
Vegetarians have intrigued me. If one crossed my path, I'd have many questions, mainly because I was fascinated by this way of life and truly admired it, even though I knew it was something I couldn't pull off. After all, I'd tried it once and it didn't work. Which, of course, begs the question, "Why couldn't you just try again?"
Honestly, I think it was the "normalcy" of meat that kept me rooted in place. Meat was Thanksgiving turkey and all the wonderful memories I had of that favorite holiday. It was my mother's famous spaghetti sauce with meatballs and sausages that I lusted after. My father's Indian chicken curry and my grandmother's Chicken Divan that I requested on each birthday growing up. The smell and taste of bacon and coffee on lazy weekend mornings.
Meat was part of my identity and played a large part in family memories. Give up meat? That was as crazy as cutting myself off from my family. Unthinkable.
And yet, I really loved animals and felt the uncomfortable truths peeking at me subtly like the eyes of a camouflaged frog peering over a submerged lily pad. The truth was there, but just contemplating it all made me so damned sad, so I ignored those peering eyes. Everyone else ignored it, right? Well, practically everyone.
About ten years ago, one of my meat-eating roommates went to her vegan friends' house for Thanksgiving. I recall feeling bad for her, missing out on the holiday turkey. The next day, though, she raved about the food. "It was really really good!" she insisted, even though I had my doubts. She went on. "And both of my friends' skin looks so good! One of them had really bad acne and as soon as she went vegan, it cleared up. They both kind of glow. I know that sounds weird, but it was cool." I didn't think too much on the comment at the time, but the fact that I remember it so clearly is telling. There were stirrings in my brain. Perhaps there was more to that veganism thing.
All the vegetarians that I knew, come to think of it, were very good-looking people. They all had healthy, rosy cheeks, and were that perfect weight so many strive for. I've always been small -- minus my year of eating a wide variety of aged dairy products in France -- and felt irritated by the people who would shake their heads and cluck that I was "so skinny" or "too thin." There was even a well-meaning teacher in high school who pulled me aside and not-so-subtly hinted that I might have an eating disorder. Which was really funny because 1) my appetite is huge and I can really wolf food down and 2) I detest throwing up. My husband can attest that I'm a real baby if I get a stomach bug.
My doctor assured me that my 130 lbs on my 5.5 frame was perfect, but having tiny proportions doesn't fit the American standard of a healthy look. I'd probably get more approval if I enlarged "the girls," but that ain't my style. Still, I sometimes gaze at people who are so perfectly proportioned and think, "It must be nice."
Where was I?
Right -- vegetarians and vegans were startlingly pretty people. Food for thought, but I still didn't entertain the idea of trying it out myself.
Ellen DeGeneres went vegan. The woman who loved her hamburgers. And, crazily enough, she got even prettier. So I started thinking slightly about it. 'Cause you can't get any cooler or nicer than Ellen, can you?
4. Whole Foods Comes Clean
Last year, Whole Foods started labeling their meat based on how "humane" the care for the animal was. I think a "1" was low and a "5" or something was an animal that was super-cared for. I found out later that this upset many animal rights folks, as it perpetuated the "happy humane animal" myth and lulled a believing public into continuing to consume animals.
But for me, it had the opposite effect. None of their meat was rated above a "2" and that was a real eye-opener for me. I'd blithely assumed that Whole Foods animals were all well-cared for with deaths so quick, they didn't even see it coming. Interestingly enough, the CEO of Whole Foods, John Mackey, is vegan. I wonder if he did this to raise awareness of what really goes on when animals are raised for food. (He's actually an interesting person to read about; an odd fellow, definitely, but interesting.)
So those 2s really got me thinking and feeling very uncomfortable with my choices.
5. Pretty Book
While these 2s were percolating in my brain, I noticed a lovely book on display in Barnes and Noble: The Vegan's Daily Companion, by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau. I was smitten by it and by the pictures of the contented creatures throughout. [After going vegan, I bought it and it's one of my favorite books. Just a lovely tome of happiness.] It really pulled at my heartstrings and resonated with parts of me that had slumbered for years. Every time I'd visit a bookstore, I'd seek this book out and marvel at it.
6. Telling it Like it Is in the Lunchroom
One day I was in our teacher's lounge and the subject of animal cruelty came up. I glanced at my plate of chicken curry and said, "Oh, it makes me so sad to think about that. I just can't bear to think about it or watch it." My vegetarian colleague pointed out (very kindly and non-judgmentally somehow) "Well if you can't think about it, never mind watch it, should you really be eating it?" I had no answer for that, but those words floated around me for days.
7. Curiosity Spared the Cat
In early April of 2011, I decided to look at some vegan blogs. NOT because I wanted to go vegan, mind you. I was just very curious, the same way I would be about Cirque du Soleil acrobats. And that's when I saw the video link, took a deep breath, pressed play, and had my whole flimsy way of thinking disintegrate instantly.
That's a pretty long-winded explanation of how it all started, but I think most evolutions happen that way. Slow and steady until you hit the tipping point and then all bets are off.
Yesterday I was talking with another colleague, who's temporarily eating vegan for his health. He was fascinated with the way food tastes changed. "Tomatoes are so sweet now!" he noted. And this reminded me of my own transformation. Food does taste way better; clearer. I suppose it's like putting glasses on someone accustomed to a blurry world, except the change takes place in your taste buds instead.
Another interesting thing that changed was that I used to bruise ALL the time. My legs were a gross palate of purples. greens, and greys, all as a result of barely bumping into things. I didn't take note of this interesting change until a month ago, when a student's chair came toppling down from their desktop and scraped my leg. I knew it would leave a hefty bruise. But no such bruise appeared and it occurred to me that my legs had been bruise-free for about a year.
My fingernails and hair grow like weeds now and are super healthy. I used to get tons of white marks on my nails, which some said were marks of calcium deficiency, but the jury's still out on that. Still, it's weird that they went away after I went vegan. And my energy level picked up noticeably. And I feel GOOD after eating ... I don't get stomach aches any more.
But best of all, I feel happy. Happy to share my compassion to all animals, not just domesticated ones that we subjectively decide are pet-worthy. I feel more connected to every living thing, somehow. (insert New Age music) Which is fascinating, because I thought that opening myself up to the knowledge of animal agriculture would make me a sad person. And while there are moments that hurt (mainly when loving people explain away animal suffering or, just as bad, joke about it), overall it feels like a big grey cloud lifted itself off my life.
And I am very hopeful that this will catch on and we can end what over 10 billion animals endure each year in the U.S. alone. Meat consumption in this country has declined in the last six years. May those videos soon become outdated artifacts of what apathy and denial allowed us to once support.