Welcome to VINE’s new “Paths to Veganism” blog series, in which VINE staff and invited guest contributors will share their stories. We believe that these stories, considered individually and collectively, will help the vegan and animal advocacy movements develop more nuanced and comprehensive strategies.
Let’s start at the beginning, the first time I had ever heard of the word vegan. I was 14, the internet had been around for a few years, but still seemed a pretty new idea, and the possibilities of its reach were exponential. A friend of mine had shown me how to: create an email address (hotmail, of course), use Yahoo, ask Jeeves a million questions, and use something called AIM (which would later become a slight obsession).
After searching the internet and finding a website called livejournal, there it was—vegan: a person who does not eat the by-products of animals, wear animal products, such as wool, leather, silk, fur, or use products tested on animals. At the time I was a vegetarian and thought that by not eating meat I was doing my part to end animal suffering. It was a definite wake up call. I felt simultaneously grateful and disappointed that I was going to have to give up some of my favorite foods, mostly cheese. I had a serious love affair with cheese—every kind, especially Brazilian cheeses. It was really hard for me to think that I’d never eat a pastel again, or lasagna or nachos (note: at that time, in 2001, there weren’t many cheese substitutes, and the ones that existed didn’t really taste very good). But researching the cruelty that was associated with dairy products really helped me make that jump to eating a plant-based diet.
With the switch to veganism, I met a new group of people who were very passionate about ending animal suffering and would travel all over Massachusetts to attend animal rights talks and vegan food festivals; to connect with other activists; and to demostrate against the circus, businesses that sold fur, and labs that tested on animals or performed vivisection. I felt at home, and they empowered me in many ways.
From the age of 14 to 17 I was very strict about veganism, although my ability to be active in the animal liberation movement varied based on my mental health, access to transportation, and my work/school schedule. After three years I reluctantly went back to eating fish and dairy products after my health dwindled and I lost a lot of weight. Being a teenager and eating vegan can be very difficult if you do not have the access to healthy foods. At the time my family could not afford to buy fresh fruits and vegetables, so I mostly lived off of white bread, white sugar, and processed foods. A visit to the doctor confirmed that the way I was eating wasn’t sustainable. My physical suggested I return to eating at least pescetarian (when my family could afford to do so) and although I didn’t want to, I couldn’t continue to feel sick and lethargic every day. I was pretty upset about having to go back to eating food that I did not ethically agree with, but I felt that I had no choice.
The second time I was vegan was after I graduated high school and moved in with my grandfather. With this move I had a better understanding of what I needed to eat in order to maintain a healthy body and mind: fresh fruits, vegetables, limited mock meats and tofu, grains and nuts. My grandfather (papa) was a bit hesitant, thinking that I was participating in some sort of fad diet, but supported me (even though he honestly forgot sometimes, buying me cheese at the supermarket thinking that I was going to be super excited to try it) and helped me by buying cookbooks, nutritional guides, and taking me grocery shopping with him to make sure we got food that I could eat.
This lasted for about two years before, again, I developed health issues, which my doctor wrote off as another vegan induced illness: fibroid tumors. After I visited her, the doctor printed and mailed me a study (conducted by the meat industry, which I later found out was particularity biased, so folks would be scared of soy) with notes on how this (eating soy) contributed to the growth of my tumor. She failed to ask about my family history of reproductive illness (my mother had had fibroid tumors that I did not know about but would have discovered if my doctor had told me to ask). If she had known about this family history I’m sure she wouldn’t have had so insistent that soy had contributed to the tumor that had grown to 4.5lbs and 22 centimeters at the time of removal. And, if my doctor had been better educated, she would have known that some African American natural healers promote veganism as a remedy for fibroids!
Again, at 21 I stopped eating vegan, at a doctor’s orders. It never really occurred to me to find a vegan or vegan friendly physician (which I now specifically request, after so many years of being dismissed). Reluctantly I ate a non-vegan diet until age 25.
It’s been over three years since I returned to veganism and I have never felt better. Identifying as queer, vegan, woman of color, has made me feel more connected to anti-oppression work. Knowing that I am making a difference in the lives of nonhuman animals and human animals makes me feel connected to my community more than I ever have. Building my vegan community over the past year in Boston has been a really exciting time: meeting so many folks of color who all have very valid voices and experiences that they have shared with me and I have shared with them.
I’ve volunteered for animal sanctuaries, organized bake sales, donated, cooked for great causes, supported local and international vegan businesses, educated friends who have later become vegan, attended Veg Fests, signed petitions, participated in demos and protests for animals, leafleted in Boston, modeled for vegan clothing, tabled for the animals, and given a workshop on the intersections of animal rights, feminism, and racism. My passion has been revitalized with my new position at VINE Sanctuary! Making the trip up to Springfield, VT to meet the animals who I will be helping thrive after their history of abuse, neglect and oppression, put into perspective the importance of intersectional work in the non-profit sector.
This is my journey to veganism, what’s yours? Please share your story in the comment section.