“How do you know if someone’s a vegan?”
“Don’t worry, they’ll fucking tell you!”
Here’s how the conversation starts. I say, “Hey, guys. I have something to tell you. I decided to adopt a vegan diet on January 1, 2016, to protest animal exploitation at the hands of the factory farming system.”
You roll your eyes. Cue [Joke 1].
We’re already off to a bad start.
I want to tell everyone who’s reading this blog not to be defensive, because I’m not attacking you. I want to tell you not to worry that I’m judging you, because that would make me a hypocrite. If I were to judge you, I’d also have to judge the person I was four months ago, when I ate meat regularly; a year ago when I ate hot wings at least once a week; four years ago, when I openly exclaimed, in a barbeque shop “fuck vegetarianism!” I want to tell everyone that I’m not forcing my views on you, or assaulting you with an asparagus spear, or crying the vegan war cry unto the wrath of a red dawn. (Asparagus spears don’t make very good weapons, I promise.)
This is the first and last time I’ll talk about veganism on this blog, because (a) it’s not a very popular subject, and not relevant to the other things I generally write about; and (b) veganism isn’t my crusade. It’s not my war. I am merely a foot soldier, not a general in this fight. It is, however, a growing movement that I have decided to join, and I want to explain at least once why it’s an important path for me, and one that I think you should consider as well.
Four months ago I was a devoted carnivore. I ate al pastor burritos and steak sandwiches for lunch and dinner all the time. I lived on hot wings. A medium-rare hamburger with blue cheese and bacon was about as close as I could come to heaven without actually dying. I didn’t eat meat every day, but close to it. I loved it. And my taste buds still do.
And don’t even get me started on cheese. Cheese is magic. Cheese – blue cheese, goat cheese, swiss cheese, cheddar, gouda, brie, emmenthaler, and oh my god, feta – tastes like unicorn milk aged in the soft skin of a puppy’s ear spiced with myrrh and the nectar of the Olympians.
It’s easy to see why I thought giving these things up would be hard, why I didn’t want to do it. It’s easy to see why I erected psychological barriers that stopped me from admitting the truth. I blinded myself – to the realities of factory farming, animal abuse on farms, environmental destruction, and the unholy lack of compassion and kindness inherent in the act of slaughter – so as to not rob myself of these singular pleasures.
But then the strangest thing happened.
I fell in love with a pig.
Not just any pig. A wonder pig. I’ve never even met her, but she’s changed my life. Her name is Esther, and she lives with her two dads on a farm sanctuary in Canada. Her story is pretty amazing. Her dads adopted her when she was just a piglet, thinking she was a mini pig and would never grow larger than a small dog. When it quickly became apparent that she was, in fact, a farm pig, a rescue from the horrific world of factory farms and slaughterhouses, the dads sprang to action. Unable to keep Esther in their small apartment, they started an IndieGoGo campaign to buy a plot of land to start a farm sanctuary. Now, at Happily Ever Esther Farm Sanctuary, dozens of rescued farm animals live peacefully, along with the dads’ two dogs, two cats, and Esther, who is treated like the queen she is.
Shortly after I fell in love with Esther, I started having nightmares. I dreamed I was chasing Esther through the woods with a knife. I heard her squealing as she tried to escape my blade. I dreamed I was shooting her in the head with a hunting rifle in the dank confines of a slaughterhouse. I dreamed I had to kill her and eat her in order to survive. I’d wake up in a sweat each time, my heart pounding as sadness, anger, and guilt ripped me apart.
I was having these nightmares because I was doing two things that were irreconcilable: claiming to love animals and to love Esther, while eating the literal flesh of thousands of other animals just like her. I knew I had to do change if I wanted to be able to sleep at night, to look at myself in the mirror. So in early October, I stopped eating meat, and I resolved to go full vegan on January 1.
The nightmares stopped. The guilt stopped. Suddenly, the things I was saying were aligned with the things I was doing. Because the reality is that you can’t protest animal cruelty while supporting a system that perpetuates it. That’s exactly what I was doing at the time. When I stopped eating meat, the nightmares stopped. My values were once again aligned with my actions.
“But bacon is so tasty!”
Experience has taught me that this is when you, my hypothetical interlocutor, interrupt. Cue [joke 2]. Which means it’s my cue to stop. I can take it no further. All I can tell you is that my love of animals – all animals – stopped me from eating meat, and if you are a person who also loves animals…well, it’s in your hands now.
It is your decision whether to make any of the following arguments:
(1) But, don’t plants have feelings, too?
I don’t know about you, but I’ve never heard a tomato plant squeal in terror before I pulled a fruit off the vine. I’ve never seen a plant cry or whine over raspberries plucked too soon, I’ve never seen a plant rejoice when released from the confines of a greenhouse into an open field. Plants might have feelings, and maybe scientists will one day find a way to understand their expressions, but for right now, they sure don’t have feelings the way animals do.
(2) I could never go without meat. It’s too tasty!
I hear ya. I really, really do. I still love meat. Just the other day I walked by the Trader Joe’s packaged meat section and sighed, wishing longingly that meat grew on trees just like apricots and peanut butter. The delicious smell of barbeque is what led to my fateful declaration of “fuck vegetarianism!” four years ago. Meat is delicious. But here’s the thing. When you start to see that piece of meat as if someone had slaughtered your dog and served it to you for dinner, or if someone had skewered your cat and turned it into a shish kebab, it doesn’t sound so good anymore. When you start to see every piece of meat on your plate as an animal that cried when it was separated from its mother, felt terror when it smelled the death coming from the slaughterhouse or the people who had fed and raised it for the last two years, and fought desperately to free itself before dying, afraid and alone, at the hands of abusive farm workers, it just doesn’t sound good anymore.
(3) How do you get enough protein? Don’t vegans just, like, eat lettuce all the time?
I get plenty of protein, and I definitely don’t eat lettuce all the time. If I did, I would starve. If you are seriously interested in vegetarianism/veganism as a way of life, I’m happy to talk to you about some great resources to get started on how to eat a well-balanced diet and simultaneously not eat like a rabbit. I’ve already been complimented on my delicious-looking food several times at work, by people who didn’t even know I was vegan.
(4) Humans are omnivores. We need meat to survive!
First of all, as I and the millions of other vegans and vegetarians are proof, you do not need meat to survive. The very definition of omnivorous is that you can survive off a variety of food types, both plant- and animal-based. It says nothing about need. In fact, one of the incredible things about human biology is how versatile we are – how many different kinds of diets we can eat without being malnourished. In a modern society where the vast majority of us have no trouble getting our calories, it becomes less about need and more about choice. And if you could choose kindness, compassion, and empathy, why wouldn’t you? At the end of the day, it’s up to you to decide: do I take the safe, conventional route, stick with these arguments, and ground myself in my habits? Or do I join the revolution, save the lives of countless animals, and contribute to a kinder world? If you feel inclined to make these arguments, and do not feel inclined to change your eating habits, then I can only thank you for reading this far, and hope that these ideas will stay with you, and maybe one day, down the line, you’ll change your mind.
If anything in this post has given you pause, and you want to take up the discussion further, I encourage you to write to me in the comments or on Twitter. You can find me @akmakansi. I am new to this, too, so I don’t have all the answers. I don’t have every solution. But I am convinced, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that going vegan/vegetarian means being on the right side of history.
Together, we can all contribute to a kinder, happier, greener world.