“If you choose to eat meat, you love pets not animals.” – Miley Cyrus
When I first went vegan, my mom said, “Well about damn time,” which puzzled me a bit. She told me that when I learned that burgers and steaks came from cows, she thought for sure I would boycott meat because of how upset I got. I didn’t stop eating meat though, in fact, I loved the taste and ribs quickly became my favorite food. At that age, I was likely too young to tie my shoes let alone understand the moral consequences of eating animals.
I remember visiting a zoo with my family when I was very young, the location escapes my memory, but that is irrelevant anyway. We had seen every animal you could name but the one animal that stuck out to me was a peacock.
We were standing around his circular cage and I was admiring its sheer beauty. The bird spread its feathers and a rainbow glistened off of them. Dozens of brightly colored eyes stared back at me. For some reason, I was just so drawn to this bird and when my parents tried to tear me away, I had this sudden urge to break him out of the metal prison that hid him from the rest of the world and set him free. As I reluctantly turned away, the peacock began squawking and flapping its wings. I turned around, ran over to his cage and he proceeded to stop wailing. My parents stood there looking at each other, then looking at me and then looking at the peacock. Once he was calm, I walked to where my parents stood and sure enough, the squawking began – as I made my way back to the bird, he calmed down again. It was like we had this unspoken, unexplainable connection, somehow.
This story still gets brought up to this day.
That experience is always talked about in conjunction with my reasoning for being a vegan. I’m sure you’re probably wondering what the hell a peacock has to do with being vegan. If you asked me this when I first went vegan, I would definitely not have an answer. It was only recently that I came to a conclusion.
Ever since I can remember, I was what you would call an animal lover. I cried walking out of a mall pet store when I was a kid because I wanted a dog so bad, and was that too much to ask for? I used to rescue worms that would surface on the pavement after a rainstorm and save the bright orange newts that would often find themselves trapped in our basement. I once nursed a weakened fly back to health with a grape and set him free in my backyard. It didn’t matter if I was caring for my sick guinea pig or releasing a spider back into the wild, I was going to help any living creature, and this is the biggest reason as to why I became a full fledged vegan.
Why didn’t I become vegan sooner? If I was such an animal lover as a kid, why did I still eat meat? I think a lot of it comes down to awareness, or lack thereof. Years and years ago, being vegan was almost unheard of, at least I had never really heard the term “vegan” let alone knew anyone who was a vegan. Sure there were plenty of people who were vegan around the world, but in my little bubble I knew only meat lover’s pizza or good Southern barbecue and thick slabs of ribs smothered in sweet, tangy barbecue sauce. I was oblivious.
Late middle school or early high school was when I began to become aware of vegetarians. I had a friend who was Indian and for religious reasons – I cannot remember her specific religion – was a vegetarian. This isn’t all that uncommon, but as a kid, she was different than me and the rest of my friends. At that age, different isn’t good so I had no desire to become informed on vegetarians or vegans and especially not if it was solely a religious thing. There are actually numerous common religions where followers are vegetarian or are at least encouraged to be vegetarian.
Hinduism encourages a vegetarian diet but not all Hindus are vegetarian. Hindus do universally avoid beef because the cow is considered a sacred animal. Jainism, which is a nontheistic religion, teaches salvation by perfection through successive lives, and non injury to living creatures. Vegetarianism is an expected practice by all Jains. Similarly, this is a set of morals that most vegetarians and especially vegans follow. Yet another religion, Buddhism teaches vegetarianism as a way to be mindful and compassionate. Buddha states, “the eating of meat extinguishes the seed of great compassion.” Judaism describes vegetarianism as an ideal and even Christianity prohibits cruelty to animals. When animals are killed for meat, they are put through terrible abuse, (http://www.pages.drexel.edu/~soa29/Religious%20Issues.htm).
While it’s fascinating that these religions promote vegetarianism — and I support all religious beliefs — I’m not religious, I never have been. I’ve gone to church a total of maybe four times in my life and that was when I was much younger. Despite my lack of religion, I find it intriguing that there are so many religions out there trying to teach people to stop eating and abusing animals. I just wish that more people would follow these practices.
So clearly I did not become vegan for religious reasons, but I became a vegan for moral reasons, which when you look at it, is very similar to what religions teach, a set of morals, a moral code per se. As veganism was getting more and more popular, especially on social media, I became curious. What was all the hype over a plant-based diet or a vegan lifestyle, and what the hell was the difference? (Plant-based is simply eating vegan foods. Being vegan means all your clothes, makeup, products, just about everything you use, do not contain any animal product.). At the time I was taking a nutrition class and we had watched one of those vegan documentaries and it really got me thinking. It really resonated with me so after following a handful of vegans on Instagram, I decided to give this whole vegan thing a chance. It started out as a challenge, I was going to cut out meat for a week and go from there. After a few hiccups, like accidentally putting bacon bits on my salad and then frantically picking each piece out, I had made it through the week no problem. I decided to push it another week, which turned into a month, then a couple months, then a year, and over three years later, here I am. As an animal lover, it really was a no brainer for me to continue this lifestyle, and at first I was only vegan for moral reasons. Then I realized how fantastic I felt, my energy levels skyrocketed. My friends are constantly amazed at how much energy I have all the time, and honestly I’m amazed too. So then the whole vegan thing became a health reason. As I did more research, I realized just how bad the meat industry is for the environment and for our health.
If the entire world went vegan, food-related emissions would decrease significantly, trillions of dollars would be saved in healthcare and millions of human (and trillions of animal deaths) would be avoided. Meat consumption is being called a leading factor for the global water crisis. Animal agriculture is an ethical, human health, and environmental disaster affecting every part of the world.
I’m not saying a vegan lifestyle or even diet is right for everyone, because it’s not always practical. I just wish more people were educated on the topic. People mock vegans because they would like to forget about the torture and harm they put animals through. It’s the same strategy as every social justice movement – starting a negative stereotype attempts to silence people. Most people refuse to become informed on the meat industry and how the animals are treated. Many of these people are the ones making the jokes, creating and sharing anti-vegan content, or trying to explain why they can’t become vegan. On the other hand, these same people are appalled when they witness a dog being neglected or abused. A cow or pig or chicken is no different than a dog or cat.
Being vegan is more than just a fad, it’s a lifestyle, it’s a set of morals. It’s a part of who I am and that is not going to change.