Three Years Vegan
Today is my three year vegan anniversary, and I am feeling reflective.
It has been a period of frequent change, and my thoughts, feelings and circumstances are drastically different to what they were just a few years ago. Four years ago I wrote an article about why I was a vegetarian, which is enlightening—I now disagree with much of what I wrote. It gives you a glimpse of the progression I have undergone, and indeed if you are currently an omnivore you may find it speaks to you more than this article might.
It is illuminating to compare what I wrote at the time to what I believe now. It emphasises that veganism, or indeed any worthwhile endeavour, is a journey rather than a switch. All quotes in this post are from my younger self.
At the time I had tried veganism for a month before deciding it wasn’t for me. Even then it was important for me to try things personally before dismissing them. I still believe the best response to indecision on a path of action is to jump into it for a limited time. Pretend to be vegan for a month: what does it feel like? How do people respond? How does your body respond? You’re not committed to the lifestyle, just trying on some new clothes. You can return them if you don’t like them.
A Second Time
Until I did my research today, I believed that it was only a few months between my first vegan trial and having it stick. The 2007 date on the above article compared to this hiking post tell me it was in fact a whole year later than I thought. At a leisurely rate, since I wasn’t actively working on becoming vegan, it took 18 months from my first experiment to feel comfortable slipping into a vegan life style. After the above mentioned hike finished—six days of enforced veganism, read the link for context—I didn’t feel like going back. A homecoming dessert of ice cream and fresh raspberries from grandma’s garden didn’t tempt me; the latter by themselves were all I felt like eating.
I wasn’t committed to going vegan, but just took it one day at a time. There was no remorse; no foods I felt like I was missing out on. My body and mind had adjusted to the point I didn’t feel like I needed, or wanted, animal products anymore. After a week or so the idea felt like it had legs, and before I knew it a month had flown by. This time around I had a much wider repertoire of recipes and knowledge of vegan nutrition, though my awareness of vegan philosophy was still quite dim. I was vegan in diet only for at least the first year, but since then I have also stopped using other animal products such as leather. I can’t recall a specific trigger for this, it just built up naturally over time, tracking my increasing awareness of vegan ethics.
The only ethical justification for [trying veganism] was that livestock are an order of magnitude more expensive (in near all measures of the term) than grain and vegetable sources, and as such are a burden that our growing society simply cannot sustain.
Unlike many, I was initially vegan for environmental and health reasons. Me and animals, we didn’t get along so well. In fact it went beyond that into active dislike. I was a vegan that hated animals.
I wouldn’t even touch domestic pets. I realised this was stupid, but it’s only in the last year I’ve been able to scratch a dog behind its ears—a tentative step towards my recovery.
Contrary to many vegans, I do not believe that animals deserve the same rights as humans, drawing the (admittedly grey) line at self-reflection and higher order thought.
Frankly, this statement shows an abominable absence of any knowledge about rights nor compassion for other beings, though a strict reading of it may be unobjectionable. Animals shouldn’t deserve the same rights as humans in the same way that children don’t have the same rights as adults. It does not follow that they shouldn’t have rights, though that is the conclusion I drew at the time. Also, the “contrary to many vegans” line is clearly a straw man in this interpretation.
The clearest introduction to animal rights I have read is the aptly named Introduction to Animal Rights, a book with a terrible cover but excellent interior. In short, the book’s argument is that as long as animals can be owned as property, any rights we claim to grant them (such as the right not to be tortured, that most people agree with) will necessarily be compromised when there is a conflict between the animal and that animal’s owner. As with human ones, rights are required not for when things are going well, but for when they go bad. Further, we are structurally unable to respect the welfare of animals under our current legal systems. That’s just a taste—read the book before you decide whether you agree or disagree. I personally find it a compelling argument.
As for compassion, to deny animals feelings is the same great lie that tells us that homeless people got what was coming to them, that death isn’t tragic in third world countries because it happens all the time, and that republicans are crazy psychopaths devoid of emotion. Our brain cannot accept the vast, unimaginable suffering that our society—or even just our world—perpetuates. To deal with it we rationalize “it can’t be that bad.”
Any sane observation will show you that animals feel pain, suffering, and mental trauma. It looks exactly the same as it does in humans, and there is no reason to believe it is any different. We already recognise this in domestic animals such as dogs and cats, it is a contradiction to treat other similar animals (pigs, for instance) differently.
If you are not so sure, watch Earthlings then we can have a chat.
I found it difficult to eat out anywhere, and while people will usually be all too happy to cook a vegetarian meal for you, they generally blanch at the prospect of not using cheese.
I do not feel this at all anymore. I have a far better knowledge of where the good places to eat in Melbourne are, but that can’t be the end of the story. Perhaps I am better at spotting vegan options? Perhaps I am more comfortable asking for a non-standard meal? Perhaps my taste has become less discerning?
Perhaps I am better at sucking it up when I get a shit meal.
I spent a few days last year in Nashville—an openly unfriendly vegan location—and had no troubles eating well, much to the surprise of my colleagues.
Not to mention that [veganism] eliminates virtually all desserts(!), and many types of beer(!!).
Wow. So so wrong. Most of the beers worth drinking are vegan. My rule of thumb is no CUB (VB, Carton Draught, etc…), no Matilda Bay, no Guinness. That leaves on the list: Coopers, James Squire, Mountain Goat, White Rabbit Dark, Asahi, plus many more. This is a total non-issue. I also don’t drink as much as I used to.
As for desserts, I don’t know what to say. I epic failed my research. I still remember my house mate at the time scolding me after the month for saying such a stupid thing, and gifting me a vegan dessert cookbook. You don’t even need obscure ingredients. Eggs, milk and cream simply aren’t necessary. Outside the home kitchen, there is no shortage of incredible brownies, cupcakes, regular cakes, crumbles, scrolls, icecream, and other sweet goods to be easily found in Melbourne. I simply hadn’t looked outside my regular venues.
I felt my alertness waning, and could not find ways to affordably maintain an athlete’s diet.
This was a function of having NFI at the time what vegans actually ate, though I didn’t know of my ignorance then. I have a far better appreciation of nuts, legumes, grains and vegetables now, and how to make them the core focus of my diet rather than bonus extras. A vegan diet has quite different fundamentals to an omnivorous diet, or even a vegetarian one. Going out on my own, I wasn’t able to assimilate these within the course of a month.
I am in better physical shape now than I ever have been, so I guess I figured out the athlete diet. Dry legumes are about as cheap a food as you can buy. Not that I skimp on food these days (I was at university when I wrote the above), but that is unrelated to veganism.
I feel support from my social group would help in this regard (which I can’t see happening any time soon!)
This sentence is so revealing. In hindsight, if I could have changed just one thing about my first vegan trial, it would have been to surround myself with at least a couple of existing vegans. My level of ignorance was staggering, and could have easily been alleviated by knowing someone who actually knew what they were on about. It would have also provided appropriate support during a difficult transition. I also felt at the time that my friendship group was static, which is never the case.
You choose your friends, and you become your friends.
These days I am active in Melbourne’s thriving vegan social scene and count many other vegans as friends. A far cry from the big fat zero I knew three years ago. I helped put together the recently released Vegan Melbourne website that documents a number of regular events, and also run a vegan mentoring group that includes weekly dinners. Melbourne is widely regarded as the best Australian city to be vegan in, and I believe it is a contender worldwide also.
Theoretically it is possible to continue an omnivorous diet within this constraint, but in practice finding (and affording!) organic meat is non-trivial, so I chose to abstain from meat all together.
At last one thing that hasn’t changed! I still believe that, in Melbourne at least, it is far easier to be vegan than to only consume “ethically” produced animal products.
It is humbling to see just how much my core beliefs changed in such a relatively short time frame. Going vegan has been the strongest example in my life of how thoroughly you can change how your mind and body feel, think and react. I can barely put into words how liberating this realisation has been.
I can’t wait to see which parts of this post I am quoting in three years time.