It took me a decade to fully adopt a vegan lifestyle. Looking back on my journey, I often wonder why it took me so long to become vegan since it's one of the best choices I've ever made. I guess it's in keeping with my approach to life, which is unhurried, steady, and thoughtful. It certainly gives me compassion for others who need time to make the transition, and I hope it also shows it's never too late to take animals off your plate since I was 54 when I recognized that eating meat is a choice and not a necessity, and I was in my 60s when I became fully vegan.
My shift in perception began in the fall of 2002 on a visit to the Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, New York. I went with my youngest daughter, who was 15 at the time. Our enthusiastic tour guide told us stories about the rescued animals, explained the demands of their daily care, and gave us a chance to bond with the "residents." To this day, I recall the thrill of giving a belly rub to a huge pig lying on a straw bed in one of the barns. Our appreciation of the sanctuary was enhanced by our overnight stay on the property. Our cabin had a collection of books on living the farm sanctuary life, and we spent an enjoyable evening browsing through them.
The height of our sanctuary experience occurred the next morning in the breakfast room where we were drawn to a stack of videos about factory farms. We became obsessed with watching one video after another exposing the inhumane ways each type of animal is raised and slaughtered at these large-scale industrial agricultural facilities. I kept thinking how did I not know about these factory farms? In the video about chickens, I was appalled to learn an egg-laying hen spends her entire life crammed into a battery cage with five to ten other chickens. Allotted the space the size of a piece of computer paper, she can't even spread her wings. I couldn't help imagining what it would be like to live my entire life in such a restricted area when I'm restless being confined in an airplane seat for a few hours. Next, I learned that a pig, who is smarter than a dog in many ways, is imprisoned in a gestation crate, a pen so narrow she's unable to even turn around for the four months of her pregnancy. Then a week before she gives birth, she's transferred into a slightly wider farrowing crate so she can lie down to nurse her piglets until they are weaned at about four weeks. It was hard for me to imagine such an unnatural way of nursing as I remembered the joy I had experienced when I breastfed my three daughters.
My daughter and I became obsessed with watching all the videos. Our blinders had been removed, and we felt a need to know the plight of cows, sheep, turkeys, and ducks on factory farms. Horrified by the unconscionable abuse we witnessed in these disturbing videos, we both pledged to give up eating animals, and I'm forever grateful that my eyes were opened during my visit to Farm Sanctuary.
At first, I was technically a pescatarian. I erroneously thought fish were a healthy source of protein and hadn't made the connection that fish, like mammals and birds, are individuals who suffer pain and value their world under the sea. I gave up eating fish when my blood work showed my mercury levels were off the charts!
At this point, I couldn't fathom being vegan because it seemed too extreme. But, over the next six years I continued to learn that the practices of the egg and dairy industries were actually crueler than the meat industry.
For example, on the day they're born male chicks are either ground up alive or suffocated in garbage bags simply because they can't lay eggs. It blew my mind that the egg industry could justify doing something so callous and inhumane solely for profit. Equally disturbing was the fate of dairy cows, and their plight went against my maternal instincts. Just like human mothers, a cow goes through nine months of pregnancy and then begins to lactate for the sole purpose of nourishing her baby. Yet on dairy farms, including small and humane label farms, calves are permanently removed from their mothers within hours of birth so humans can take the milk intended for them. These practices became my impetus for adopting a vegan diet.
An unexpected health benefit of giving up dairy was the disappearance of a post-nasal drip that caused me to clear my throat before speaking. What my husband thought was a nervous habit was lactose intolerance! A swollen, arthritic finger joint also cleared up. I came to believe that since approximately 65% of the human population is lactose intolerant, it must be a sign that we're not meant to drink the milk of another mammal.
Over the course of the next couple of years, I totally committed to abstaining from using or wearing any animal products. How could I continue to wear wool when I found out its production was as cruel as leather and fur? I felt empathy for sheep who are sheared by machines that bruise and cut their skin. I felt compassion for the pain they endure due to a barbaric, surgical practice called mulesing done without anesthesia. As an ethical vegan, I directed my energies to peacefully educate others about the vegan lifestyle. I became certified as a health coach and discovered a passion for inspiring others to follow a plant-based diet. I attended protest marches in New York City, distributed vegan leaflets on college campuses, worked on a project to promote vegan fare at Long Island restaurants, and volunteered as a coach for the Vegan Living Program. During the pandemic I continued my advocacy by being an administrator on a Facebook page called Vegan Empowerment. I believe veganism is the most important social issue of our time, and I intend to be part of promoting this movement for the rest of my life.
Living in alignment with my values of love and compassion for all living beings gives me peace of mind. It feels so good to not intentionally harm any living soul, and I love knowing that by choosing this lifestyle I save the life of at least one land or aquatic animal every day! It also gives me the strength to persevere despite any personal difficulties because I'm aware that my challenges don't compare to the suffering of exploited animals.
I feel fortunate that my family and friends have been supportive of my choice, even though they have not followed my lead. I'm married to a staunch carnist (meat-eater), and although this difference has been challenging, I'm happy to say we've successfully navigated it. Since I'm the one who does the food shopping and preparation, my husband has agreed to eat vegan meals when we are at home, knowing he can satisfy his cravings for meat when he's at work or when we eat in restaurants. I'm grateful for this amicable arrangement. One of the most important lessons I've learned on my journey is that when I judge others or put pressure on them to change their eating habits, it never works. In fact, I've discovered it alienates them. So, I lead by example, and hope I'll inspire others to make similar changes when they're ready.
Now that I have a grandson, I hope more than ever that I will be a role model for him. Although his parents are raising him on a diet which includes animal protein and products, he is very aware that I am a vegan, and I teach him to be kind to animals every chance I get. If global warming continues to devastate our planet, I believe the seeds I'm planting about treating animals with compassion will grow, as he grows.
In my yoga class I learned a Sanskrit chant that expresses the universal spirit found within all beings, and I end my morning meditation with this prayer. It imagines a world where all beings are free to pursue their lives in ways that do no harm to others.
John Lennon's song Imagine also gives me hope for what's possible. If he were alive today, I believe he would have included a verse about the end of factory farming and animal exploitation. I certainly relate to the lyrics of his reprise:
You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one
I envision a day when humankind rises above exploiting other beings and lives with love and compassion. I pray that the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life will contribute to that magnificent day!