For a variety of reasons, I became a vegetarian in 2009. Although, as the years passed, only one of those reasons really stuck: I couldn’t justify the killing of another living being when there were plenty of other ways to get easily & fully nourished.
However, I never thought too much about becoming vegan. Using animal byproducts wasn’t outright killing living beings, I thought, so what’s the big deal?
As the story goes, last October I started to learn about the mechanics of the dairy industry. It struck me that continuing to eat dairy – even from the “conscious” farmers who don’t use growth hormones or do factory farming – was essentially lending my support to an industry built on rape, baby stealing and murder – on very large scales. I don’t choose those words lightly. They come from the pain in my heart that is no longer willing to sugarcoat the truth.
***See the foot note at the bottom for an example of why I choose those words.***
Anyhow, as I learned about the intricacies of that industry, I couldn’t in good conscience continue eating dairy. When I told this to some friends, two people who’ve lived with me jokingly asked something like, “how are you going to survive without eating quesadillas!?” This is to say I used to eat a lot of cheese! I liked cheese. It was certainly not convenient to give it up.
However, my values won and after a two month trial run, I decided to officially give up dairy on January 1st.
Seven months later, I can say it’s been incredibly easy. When we have a strong conviction, we can accomplish just about anything. I don’t even think about eating dairy anymore.
I know being a vegan is much bigger than just dairy. Personally, I don’t eat eggs because I have a mild intolerance to them. But I have also seriously re-considered and altered my relationship with leather, wool and honey. I don’t necessarily abstain from using them, but I’m much more judicious than I used to be.
My guiding criteria is the question, “is engaging in this action causing unnecessary harm to living things?” It’s sometimes really hard to be honest with myself about the answer, as well as my commitment to it, but it continues to be one of my practices.
So how do I stay healthy?
When I talk to people about being a vegan, the main question I get is how I stay healthy. Usually, I like to point out that plenty of people eat unhealthily. I don’t actually believe our health has that much to do with whether or not we’re a vegan, meat eater or anything in between.
Instead, since 2005 I’ve more or less followed Dr. Andrew Weil’s Anti-inflammatory Diet, which works regardless of being a meat eater or vegan. By following it, I’ve consistently enjoyed good health (minus some challenging years living in Asia & Latin America, where it wasn’t always possible to do these things). Here’s my adapted version of his diet:
- Daily or near daily consumption of nuts, vegetables, quinoa/brown rice, tempeh/tofu/beans, fruit and a good multivitamin.
- Little-to-no consumption of processed or packaged foods.
- Little-to-no added sugar – I’ll occasionally have a chocolate bar, or use honey in baked goods.
- Abstaining from alcohol & marijuana.
- Either preparing my own meals, or eating out at places I know won’t make me feel gross.
Additionally, as the mind and body are deeply connected, our health level involves much more than just diet. I’ve also found it really important to pay attention to exercise, sleep levels, social connection, purpose, and mental health.
If a simple and accessible way to healthy living appeals to you, I highly recommend Dr. Weil’s books, “Eight Weeks to Optimum Health” and “Spontaneous Happiness.”
***Footnote – standard dairy industry practices ***
Let’s say Joe Farmer has 20 dairy cows. He will artificially impregnate the females every single year so they can produce dairy milk (that is; until they get too old to produce a sufficient amount of milk – then he promptly has them murdered).
As soon as those dairy cows give birth, he separates the babies from their mothers (as cows are mammals with a deep emotional reality, the mothers wail and bellow for several days).
As soon as possible, the baby girls are started on the cycle of artificial impregnation (ladies – imagine someone shoving a pole up your vagina once a year, so that you get to live pretty much the entirety of your life being pregnant – sound appealing?).
The baby boys are promptly sold off to ranchers who will feed them until they have enough pounds of fat on their body, at which point they will be murdered as well.
As there’s lots of money in this whole process, this cycle is repeated in increasingly large numbers.
In hearing this, I find most people are either heartbroken, desensitized or in disbelief – it’s almost too much reality to bear.
It seems to me a marker of a life well lived is our capacity to align our actions with our values – whatever those may be. With that, I end these reflections of another journeyer on the path =)