If you ask a vegan, “what made you become vegan,” you are likely to get an answer that stems from one of three places:
We all start from some place on that list. But, whatever our initial push into being vegan, it is quite likely that we end up a better version of ourselves down the road— caring deeply about all THREE of those possible starting points. This is a common thread among vegans— you grow into a more caring person as you embrace the lifestyle more and more.
I know the word vegan is often followed by the word (whether said aloud or just a passing thought) “asshole.” I try not to be a vegan asshole— like try really hard. I have often told Niamh, who started us on our vegan journey, that our veganism needs to look like an invitation and not a judgement. We need to live it so beautifully that people think, “I want in on that” instead of “what an asshole.”
Diets are weird, tension-filled places. My friend once said, “you want to get people close to you up in arms? Change your religion or your diet.” We associate food with things like family, celebrations, community, memories, nostalgic feelings of childhood— so of course when we are challenged on something so fundamental to our existence, we get a little abrasive. Maybe life would be a little more delightful for all of us if we lived with the belief that we could learn something from everyone.
I grew up in a home where my dad and brother hunted throughout the year and our main dish every night was meat or meat-based. I lived this way until a year-and-a-half ago. Even as a vegan, I still have a tender spot for hunters and do not take a black and white stance on it. I have seen and been part of a family where deer, turkey, and duck hunting were part of the culture, male bonding, and food provision. I know hunting is part of my story and do not judge others because that is an important part of their family and traditions. I do not often talk about hunting (am I afraid of the vegan assholes, too?😂), but my past informs my present and influences the way I see things. I cannot imagine ever again eating an animal that has been slaughtered just to put something on my dinner plate…But, I always feel this involuntary happiness for my dad each hunting season when he gets a buck. I know that is not a popular stance for a vegan to take. As a plant-based enthusiast, it is a little embarrassing, honestly; but, it helps to remind me that we are all humans trying to live good lives, with ironic, conflicting, and paradoxical beliefs.
I went vegan for health reasons. Over the last decade, I have grown very careful and thoughtful about what I consume. I want to take control of my health in the places I definitely can exercise control. Eating is surely one of those spaces. The health implications of consuming dairy, meat, and eggs are too risky for me personally to play around with. I entered this lifestyle from a purely health-based place.
Niamh went vegan to help the planet. A plant-rich diet is a solution to climate change with the fourth biggest impact*— and, unlike installing wind turbines, it is something each of us can daily take part in! Niamh explained to me the way she feels for the earth one night, after she seemed incredibly sad for two weeks and I began to feel frustrated at my failed attempts to solve her sadness problem. She said that it feels like her heart is made of dirt or elephant parts or trees…or maybe a combination of all three…and it physically hurts her spirit when she watches the earth dying. I sat and cried on the bed like a big baby at the beauty of how she expressed her earth-loving heart. She went vegan for the earth.
We all have various starting points, but we often find our journeys converging onto this broader road of planet, health, and creatures. After I heard Niamh express her sadness for the earth, I became a vegan as much for the earth as for myself. And it bothers me terribly now to think of animals being mistreated, suffering, and dying scared just to put a burger on my plate. I do not know which I care about more at this point and would list all three if asked why I’m vegan now.
It is very difficult to see someone’s heart break over something and not become instantly more empathetic towards their viewpoint. When I see Niamh’s heart break for the earth or for animals, my heart breaks, too. People who are good at being vegan help reveal our own hardness of heart and undo it, turning us more towards consciousness, kindness, and gentle living.
I love the thought that we do not need a few perfect vegans, but millions of imperfect vegans. It is a huge lifestyle change, one that can take multiple attempts. It is okay to get on and off and back on the vegan wagon. It is a wonderful thing to substitute plants for meat in even a couple meals a week! Little steps count, friends!
And vegans, let’s not always be riding the vegan wagon, looking down at the meat and dairy-eaters, like a bunch of assholes. Let’s get off and walk the road with the non-vegans, hearing their apprehensions, struggles, and facts, too. Being vegan should look like an invitation to a beautiful party!!
This is a lifestyle choice that literally has the potential to change the world; I hope it looks that incredibly wonderful to you, too.
*from Drawdown, The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming, by Paul Hawken
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