I grew up in a fairly mainstream upper-middle class suburban family. I became a vegan at the age of 21 and I can look back on my childhood and isolate two factors that may have been helpful in my transition towards a vegan diet. First, my mom was a nurse and had many concerns about nutrition. She had me and my two sisters eating plenty of fruit, avoiding excessive sugar and soda pop, choosing whole wheat over white flour, avoiding hydrogenated oils, and, during the PCB scare in Michigan in the 1970s, she had us drink only powdered milk from out of the state since there was fear of contamination in Michigan’s dairy supply. So the idea of evaluating what I was eating and making better food choices was not a foreign one. It appears to me that many people simply have never thought deeply about questions regarding what they put in their mouths and eat. Unfortunately, if you look at the public in general, they will eat just about anything society arbitrarily labels “food”.
Secondly, I had always loved animals and had many pets and was especially fascinated with tropical fish. I worked in a tropical fish/pet store during high school and was enamored with the idea of becoming an ichthyologist and traveling to exotic places to study fish. It was this experience at the pet store that made me acutely aware of the suffering intrinsically involved when we view animals as commodities. I vividly recall that my least favorite routine at the shop was netting out the dead fish in the morning before we opened- often there were literally hundreds of dead fish everyday and this is typical in the pet trade. I became so bothered by this that I even started writing a manifesto of sorts decrying the abuses of the fish trade, comparing it to the human slave trade. As a result, I even stopped eating fish because I viewed them as my friends just like any kid would view his dog or cat. Very few people in our society would consider eating dog or cat flesh even though it is as routine in some societies as eating cows, chickens, or pigs.
College was a true intellectual and philosophical awakening for me. As a humanities major, I chose courses that introduced me to environmental issues and was profoundly impacted by the American poet/environmentalist Gary Snyder and his pulitzer prize-winning book of poetry, Turtle Island. One poem in particular became sort of a mantra for me and encouraged me to try to contribute something positive to the world rather than leave it damaged:
‘The Great Mother’ by Gary Snyder. Not all those who pass in front of the Great Mother’s chair get past with only a stare, some she looks at their hands to see what sort of savages they were.
I owe the choice of becoming a vegetarian to a college friend who had just become a vegetarian himself. He was highly influenced by Morissey of the alternative music group, The Smiths, and their album “Meat is Murder”. As only a good friend could do, he consistently berated me for continuing to eat animals and claiming to care about them at the same time. At first, I was resistant but something was nagging inside of me and deep down I knew he was right so I tried vegetarianism for a month trial period and never turned back. I really wasn’t that interested in the health benefits of vegetarianism but was more sold on the idea that I could live healthy on a vegetarian diet and not have to be part of the killing of animals anymore. With further research, about a year later I decided to become a pure vegetarian or vegan for the simple reason that for every reason one chooses to be a vegetarian, veganism is the logical evolution and the fulfillment of that rationale. I think that’s the great selling point of the vegan lifestyle: if you can eat a diet that is much better for your health, is enormously kinder to the ecology of our planet,and does not necessitate the killing of sensient beings- why wouldn’t you? So when people ask me why I’m vegan, I try to explain it softly at first so as not to leave them feeling attacked but I would really like to ask them- why are you not vegan?
So why am I vegan? Ultimately, the well-lived life involves an earnest search for higher truth and meaning. The great thing about veganism is that it is inclusive not exclusive- it benefits you and every being it considers. It is compatible with every religion and belief system that values truth, justice, and compassion. In my search for truth at this particular moment in time, I consider myself an Agnostic Existentialist Vegan with a Taoist/Anarchist slant which simply means this: I hope there is a God but am not 100% sure of it; ultimately, God or no God, it is our choices that come to define us best and it is how we choose to exist and spend our time on earth that determines what the actual meaning of our life is; I have made the choice to try to live up to the Vegan ideal- the only obvious choice when confronted with all the facts; finally, it is the prerogative and responsibility of the individual to choose to honestly search their heart and consider the thoughtful path. Please don’t wait for society, the government, your friends and family to change first- be responsible for the manner in which you choose to live and all of the implications that entails.
My cholesterol is 126.
Meet Jeff (& Carrie’s) son, Henry, here.