Wednesday, July 9, 2008

When It's Finally Time to Go Vegan

A wonderful question from the Vegan Forum, with many intriguing answers:

Why weren't you vegan before you were vegan?

I first felt a compunction to go vegan about nine years ago. Having spent most of my life as a fussy eater (broccoli? Bllleech!), I couldn't hack it. It was "too hard," too alien. I was also extremely consumerist in those days, and found the lack of "pre-fab" vegan solutions depressing. I wanted to have fun, and not worry like some religious ascetic whether what I crammed down my gullet was kosher or not.

The protein myth was another obstruction. I'd fallen under the sway of The Zone about 11 years ago in a bid to shed pounds. My weight has yo-yo'd ever since I was a kid. At my heaviest, I've tipped the scales at 250 lbs. Thanks to Barry Sears et. al., I convinced myself that the only way I could stay slim was to gorge on animal flesh.

Nearly a decade passed, during which my weight never dipped below 190 lbs. Then this year, I read Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, which was a revelation. I learned more about the environmental degradation brought about by "producing" meat. I decided to eat meat only from organically fed, free range, humanely treated animals. I cut down meat to one meal a week, and increase my consumption of whole grains, fruits, vegetables and nuts. My body responded well. I didn't bloat up to the size of an endangered whale, like the pro-protein mythologists claimed I would.

One day, I found myself thinking: if I can live without killing animals, then that's how I should live. Many animals have no choice in whether or not they eat other living beings; I don't have that luxury. I reached a tipping point where I could no longer justify the slaughter of living creatures for the benefit of my taste buds.

I went vegetarian in February. In May, while my wife was out of the country on business, I abandoned all animal products. Once I acclimated myself to soy milk, abandoning dairy and eggs was no sweat.

The odd thing is, I don't miss meat, eggs or dairy. Not at all. I don't have any days where I salivate over cheeseburger mirages. I remain physically active, which allows me to eat until I'm well and full. I eat good food - delicious whole wheat bread I make myself, vegan pancakes, oatmeal and fruit, zesty Thai and Indian dishes, hearty pastas, "meaty" Mexican salads, sumptuous cakes and desserts. I have so much variety in my diet that I never feel deprived. To the contrary: I feel liberated. I weigh in at 160 lbs., and can slip into a size 30 jean for the first time since my teens. My energy is over the top; I feel light on my feet. And I sit down to every meal secure in the knowledge that I've adopted the least impact, most humane diet on the planet.

I had to overcome a lot of misinformation and personal limitations before I went vegan. When it was time, it was time.