So many people go through life exclaiming that they are “animal lovers” yet they continue to blissfully feast on the flesh of socially acceptable animals, I was one of them.
Every Sunday as a child I was excited to go to church because I knew afterward I would get to go with my parents to Hardee’sand get a breakfast sandwich-grilled sourdough with hot ham slices and melted cheese. As my age went up, so did my serving size and I’d easily eat 2 at a time. Friday nights as a pre-teen were exciting as well. My parents always went out with friends and my older sister was out and about with friends (my oldest sister was long moved out by then). For me this meant a large extra cheese Domino’s pizza, bread sticks with garlic butter sauce, and dessert sticks- which I typically ate all but maybe 2 slices of each that became my Saturday morning breakfast. By the time I was 13 our formerly active neighborhood crowd all had new friends and no longer played outside, so I got virtually no exercise. I specifically remember being a 185lb teen, I pretty well averaged out there until my senior year when I lost about 30 lbs post graduation. (It didn’t stay gone long). This sad picture portrays that I was never raised to be a healthy individual, let alone become vegan.
Through all those teen years the strange part is that my favorite animal became a cow. It really started with a cow print wallet in middle school and by the time I was 20 I could furnish a kitchen with cow accessories. At one point when I was around 16 yrs old, I got a cow calendar for Christmas and some where in that year I made the connection between the animal and the food. I stopped eating beef, and for about a year I did fine without it. However as several kids do when becoming hasty vegetarians of sorts (probably because I was still blissfully ignorant) I some how lost that connection.
Skip ahead a few years down the road to March 2006 and I move to Texas with my then fiancee Rick (whom I refer to as Bubba) to be with his family. Since they raised a small head of cattle, I was so excited to be a real cowgirl, but that didn’t last long. Within just a few weeks of us being there they were ready to downsize and were taking 6 cows to the sale barn. I was supposed to be watching and learning as they loaded the cows up. Instead I was hiding behind Rick’s ’63 Impala crying my eyes out. Why? Because so were the cows! Babies were crying for their Mamas, Mamas were screaming back, desperation that was being ignored by the people they once trusted. Knowing what I know now, these cows were raised in a great atmosphere. A count of no more than 11, they ate grass all day, had a pond to cool off in and room to roam. But did they really deserve to be ripped away? I continued to eat whatever was put in front of me at the dinner table, but only for a few more months. Southern cooking really is some serious comfort food, especially if comfort means adding cushion to your own body (i.e. meatloaf, salmon patties, biscuits and sausage gravy, fried okra with ranch, etc)! I got to just over 200 lbs and had a wedding looming.
A few months past the first cattle sale they were ready to downsize again but only by 2, so I said I’d like to go to the sale barn this time. My life forever changed and I’ll never forget what I saw. When we pulled in I saw what was basically a massive pen. There were beautiful calves all over the place, hundreds if not more, all looking at us as we drove through at little more than an arm’s reach away. I couldn’t help but privately tear up as I thought about all of their fates. Surely some of them would be sold off and raised to a larger maturity (although ultimately with the same fate), some would soon become veal, and then likely their remains would be turned into “fashion” and interior design items. There would never be another disconnect for me, I saw the truth, I was done contributing to the beef industry. I dealt with a lot of criticism. I was told it was a phase and I’d get over it, that god put split hoof animals on earth for us to eat and it was a sin to reject his gifts. No, I never looked back from there.
We came home for some wedding planning in July and I insisted we provide chicken for dinner, but it came down to a compromise of both chicken and beef. I didn’t know it then, but I’d really regret the lack of options soon. We got back to Texas and I started to exercise. Although it was not much, I was able to lose 7 lbs before the wedding.
2 days before the wedding. I went on a friend’s computer to do some basic email and MySpace/Facebook check ins. Some animal rights group was listed with a picture of an abused dog. I felt sad and visited the group page. There was a short video promoting vegetarianism. I watched it in silence and horror (looking back it was practically PG compared to what I know now). I saw a bunch of baby chicks on a conveyor belt and getting their beaks clipped off. I said nothing to anyone about it until we went down to NMU’s Fall fest later that day. There was a booth (which I’m pretty sure was Northern Vegans ;0D ) passing out vegetarian starter kits and I whispered to Rick that I was done, and I wanted one. He was confused but understood and kept quiet.
Throughout it all, Rick always supported my decisions and stood up for me, he just didn’t feel the need to change himself, yet. Bland boring salad was my wedding meal, but I’ll never regret it! Fast forward a month and Rick joined forces with me as we endured being Texan vegetarians. This meant more cooking for ourselves and less weight on our bodies, probably about 20 lbs each. We learned a lot over the next year about animal welfare issues as well as healthier and more compassionate food options. We got just a few chickens for our own eggs and cut back on milk. Through all the struggles we realized we were not meant to live in Texas forever, and thus we were back in Marquette before our first anniversary. As we were settling back in Marquette, exploring the veggie options the Co-op offered, I saw a poster for an event hosted by Northern Vegans. It was for a film called “Eating”. I honestly didn’t care what it was about, I was excited to meet actual people like us. I never thought I’d find that in little ole Marquette. The film brought to life the real fact that dairy is just as harmful, if not more harmful to our health than meat. By this time cheese, ice cream and random desserts, were the only non-vegan items in our diet. We quickly made the decision to go vegan and took just about 2 months to phase out cheese. (We accomplished this by not buying cheese unless it came on something at a restaurant or was served by someone else. By December ’07 it was official)
In my now 6+ years of being vegetarian/vegan, I’ve been asked a lot of questions, faced criticism and misunderstanding, and dealt with admirers who don’t believe they could ever do what I am. Again, I was one of them. The difference is simply that I have information I didn’t have before. Becoming vegan has done nothing but improve my life. Throughout a life long battle with obesity, I write this with 50 less pounds on my body. I now have selfless reasons to eat better, curbing many of my previous food addictions. I opened up and saved myself from the infinite bliss that is ignorance (I also like to say ignorance isn’t bliss for those you crush in your wake). I think a lot of people around me do see the health benefits of being vegan but still choose not to change. Therefore it’s not usually my first answer to why I’m vegan. My overall reason for being vegan is simple. It’s wrong to exploit another living creature for an insignificant purpose, one which ultimately benefits no one.