I declared myself a vegetarian at age 14. I gave up shrimp a year later. The primary reason that I became a vegetarian was for the animals. I loved animals and couldn’t justify eating them. It just didn’t seem right to raise something simply to take its life, especially when a person is able to live just fine without meat in his/her diet. Aside from staying away from meat and obvious animal ingredients like gelatin (in marshmallows and jello) I really didn’t put much thought into what I ate. I don’t mean that I ate only junk food. I just mean that I pretty much ate the Standard American Diet (SAD) only without the meat. Instead of eating meat, I relied on dairy products to fill the void. I especially liked cheese.
All through high school, college and into my mid twenties I suffered from facial acne. Although I am not nervous or shy in any social setting, it got to the point where my acne was hurting my self image. As a last ditch effort, I went to a dermatologist who put me on a drug that destroyed the good bacteria in my gut. Everything I ate went straight through me. I was getting little or no nutritional value from the foods I was eating because my body was not absorbing the nutrients. During this whole time I had been making dietary improvements…eating more organic, whole foods. However, I was still eating lots of yogurt, cheese and other dairy products. By the summer of 2001 things had reached a breaking point. I was tired, irritable, achy, and had no energy. Did I have Fibromyalgia, Lupus, or perhaps one of the many other autoimmune diseases? I had symptoms that matched just about all of them, but never quite fit the true diagnosis for any one specifically.
No one could figure out what was wrong with me. I was eating a diet that most would consider healthy. I was happy. But things still weren’t right. After reaching a point where I thought I would never feel good again, I visited a clinic that specialized in diagnosing and treating food sensitivities among other things. They told me that basically my body was rejecting just about everything. They put me on an elimination diet to get my body to balance itself. This meant that I had to cut out all the foods that I was sensitive to and reintroduce them one at a time over the course of many months. The few foods I could tolerate had to be eaten on a three day rotation so that my body wouldn’t start building up a sensitivity to them as well. Over the course of following this highly restrictive diet I came to two conclusions. The first was that I felt ever so much better once I eliminated the foods that were causing me problems. The second conclusion was that without me or the clinic even knowing it, I was eating a vegan diet. After completing the dietary regime prescribed by the clinic, I tentatively went back to eating my previous vegetarian diet making sure not to rely too heavily on any one food.
About this same time, unbeknownst to me, a local man had teamed up with outside corporate investors to erect a 4,000 head hog factory (Confined Animal Feeding Operation or CAFO) less than a mile and a half from my almost completed dream home. It was through my experiences fighting this CAFO that I learned first hand the devastation that industrialized agriculture causes to our health, animal welfare, the environment and the moral fabric of our society. I had always been of the mind that eating eggs and dairy products was OK because the animals weren’t hurt to get the food. I soon realized how wrong I really was. Vast amounts of research, hearing personal accounts from people living next to CAFOs and seeing the inside of a dairy CAFO for myself helped me come to the realization that my choice to eat dairy products was in fact contributing to an industry that causes much suffering and harm.
That summer, I took a vacation to the East Coast. It was at a vegan bed and breakfast called the Sweet Onion Inn in Vermont that I met three other vegan couples who inspired me to really think about my justifications for eating dairy products. Upon returning home from that vacation, I made the move to plant-based eating. Once I made the decision, I never looked back. I feel great, my acne is under control, my conscience is free and I have a greater awareness of how much power lies in my food choices. There is absolutely no question in my mind that vegan is the healthiest and most sustainable diet for Planet Earth. Since making the decision to “Go Vegan,” I have worked to educate others on the many benefits of this lifestyle.