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Why I Chose to Become A Vegan
Delicious vegan falafels
Why Become A Vegan?
Some people might have noticed that my profile picture changed from ribs to the Mexican I have now (as of today, June 18, 2012) about a month ago. Well, that's because I decided to become a vegan in mid-April of this year.
I don't know how it went for any other vegan/vegetarians out there, but it wasn't an easy decision for me. I love food and think meat is delicious - but I don't regret making the decision.
Besides, being vegan hasn't damaged my food obsession at all. In fact, right as I'm typing this, I'm enjoying a perfectly ripened banana with a peanut butter-jelly-kimchi sandwich. If your face just contorted, I offer you my mother's sage wisdom: don't judge it till you've tried it. I save my leftovers, and the Korean take-out tastes great with my peanut-y classic.
Yeah, sometimes I carry myself into tangents, especially about food. Back on topic now.
I've gotten a lot of questions from friends, family, and complete strangers about my sanity, my health, and the why behind it all. Why would anybody sane subject themselves to veganism? Before I dive into what will be the majority of this hub, the why behind the decision, let me save some time and summarize how the first conversation usually goes. This following semi-hypothetical conversation is with a hypothetical typical person with normal questions. (If you're interested, here's a link to a hilarious hub by kerryg detailing some offbeat questions.)
Example of First Conversation
Person: A variation of, "Why aren't you scarfing down ridiculous amounts of meat like usual?"
Me: "Oh, I've decided to be vegan."
Person: *Insert confused or skeptical look* Either, "What?! Why?" or something like, "What? Does that mean you don't eat meat anymore?"
(Assuming the 2nd) Me: "Yeah, and I also don't eat animal products either. So no milk, no cheese, no butter, no eggs."
Person: Either, "What?! Why?" or "Can you even survive without meat?" Assuming the latter, about half of the queries are about health, with the other half being about "you" as in me.
(Assuming the 2nd) Me: "I've been doing alright for over a month now, and the FDA and other vegans say that as long you're careful, you can be perfectly healthy on a vegan diet. Plus, there are centuries of people like the Jains and Eastern monks who have done okay. "
Person: Either some dispute about health or a variation on, "Yeah, okay. But why would you choose to be vegan?"
That's the question that usually takes some time to answer, especially the person isn't someone Taoist, Buddhist, Jain, or just someone with a hippie spirit who's satisfied by, "You know, just for the animals and the lives."
I live in the Bay Area, so sometimes I just get, "Oh, that's cool, man," but more often I get additional questions or, on a couple of occasions, something that resembles an interrogation.
In this hub, I'm going to explain as best I can why I decided to be vegan, which is the question that usually takes me longest to answer. So if you got this as a link from me, congratulations! I wrote this after being inspired by your questions.
Example of A Vegan's Fridge
Summary of Possible Reasons
The reasons why someone might want to become vegan are many and varied, and I in no way claim to speak for all vegans or vegetarians in this hub. So first and foremost, I'm going to list a few reasons why someone might want to be vegan.
1.) Health. Many choose to be vegan or vegetarian for their health. I've been told that vegetarians usually have lower rates of heart problems, due to less fats and cholesterols in their diet, along with some other positive things. Cool. This wasn't a big factor for me, but it's good to hear of benefits.
2.) Religious reasons. Some religions, like Jainism and some branches of Buddhism, forbid eating animals and/or microorganisms as much as possible. I'm not familiar with the specifics of the religions as I'm not religious myself, but I've met many vegans with religion as their motivation. The cultures they come from also have delicious food that vegans can eat, so I've met people through that connection as well.
3.) Just to try it, or as a trend. Being vegetarian or vegan, along with other trends like "going raw", have gained a lot of popularity at least here in the Bay Area. I'm quite certain that the trends were started by people who are vegan or vegetarian for other reasons, but some are now just testing it out for fun, or just to see if they can do it. I admit, a part of my motivation was just to see if I could do it. And now I've been at it for about a month, and I plan to continue into the foreseeable future. [Update: One year anniversary!]
4.) The environment. (Credit to commenter Anne for the suggestion.) I frankly don't know much about this, but a web search for "environmental impact vegetarian" will turn up the basic benefits touted. When I find some time, I'll see if I can actually link to some resources.
4.) For the animals. This was the main reason for me. If you're wondering why I also don't eat things like unfertilized eggs and milk, let me briefly explain. The hens and cows who produce eggs and milk need to be kept in captivity, and also need to keep birthing in order to keep producing eggs and milk. The male offspring is either eaten or slaughtered. The females go back into captivity.
And of course, there is also the reduced lifespan and cruel conditions of animal factories, which I won't go too far into. I don't have any stats (which are controversial anyway), but even with just common sense it's quite plain that it likely isn't very pleasant for the animals.
There may be other reasons that I missed, and please feel free leave some in the comments. This is just a quick list for those new to vegetarianism and veganism.
My Story of Becoming A Vegan
A quick disclaimer: I don't think eating meat is a bad thing. I don't think it's horribly wrong. Not only do I respect the rights of others to eat meat, I also don't try to "convert" them or even give my reasons unless they ask. Personally, I'm happier now that I can enjoy my delicious food without reflecting on the lives it cost, so I take away my demand from the market. But I respect the rights of meat-eaters out there to continue enjoying meat.
Now with that made clear, here's how I became vegan.
Like I said above, my main motivation was the animals. I've always liked cats, dogs, and birds, but didn't have any personal pets until about 4 years ago, when I got my cat. And even then it didn't make me question my meat-eating, as here in California, cat is not a common dish - as far as I know, anyway. (By the way, if anyone is curious, my cat is doing just fine, enjoying the sun on my dining table while trying to edit my hub.)
Of course, many meat-eaters are excellent pet owners and have very close animal companions, and I, unlike some vegans, see no contradiction in this. But my cat did play a role in my decision, though that came later.
I had questioned the ethics of eating meat years before, but only on an intellectual level, without any personal pull to stop eating meat. Without any serious motivation, plus the inconvenience of changing my entire diet, I never pursued vegetarianism or veganism meaningfully.
Llamas at Machu Picchu
South American Influence
The first time I started to consider vegetarianism was on a trip to South America, a couple of years ago. While we were spending a couple of days next to Machu Picchu, we had the opportunity to spend some time with llamas and alpacas. These guys are incredible creatures. I've been with horses before, but for some reason I felt much closer to these llamas.
They're intelligent and playful, and, according to my tour guide, are also relatives of camels. Definite plus. My tour group spent an entire afternoon at a llama ranch, taking pictures of llamas, feeding llamas, and just watching the llamas hors- um, llama around.
We returned to the hotel and rested briefly before dinner. Having run around at high altitude all day, I was starved by dinnertime. I thought I was ready to eat anything - until the menus came out. Why? The first main course listed was roasted llama. Yep. That was a little discomfiting.
I wasn't the only one who felt a bit squeamish at that. Most of the group joined me in ordering the beef, which was delicious. The experience, however, made me question my carnivorous tendencies, and I chewed rather more thoughtfully on my cow flesh than usual.
Confession time, though: with the tour going on, I quickly forgot about my carnivore's dilemma. (In my defense, the next day we visited Machu Picchu, which truly is one of most beautiful places I've ever seen.) So when we returned to the States, I returned to my meat-eating ways, though I think in hindsight that I never truly removed the experience from my mind. Later, when I began questioning again, I reflected back and remembered.
Experiences in Spain
What really veganized me was my trip to Andalucía this year, 2012. Andalucía is beautiful, and my family and I had a fantastic time. There was a great deal that I gained from the trip besides my perspective change on meat, but in this hub, I'll focus on the things that affected my veganism.
First, there were the bullfights in Madrid. I wrote a couple of hubs detailing my distaste for them. (You can read the rant here and the more thoughtful version here.) By themselves, however, they didn't change my attitude all that much. I include them here because I see them as the beginning, because the experience softened me up for the rest of the trip.
Next: Camels in Morocco. Morocco is only twelve miles away from Spain over the Strait of Gibraltar, so we thought it would be a shame not to visit. Culturally speaking, it's really a different world. I felt like I was truly in the Middle East (disclaimer: I've never actually been to the Middle East) and had a hard time remembering that I was only a few miles away from Europe.
After a tour of the city, we were left with a couple of hours before our ferry was due to leave. A guide recommended that we ride the camels on the beach. Yes, it's touristy. In our defense, we were tourists, and also first-time visitors to Morocco. We decided to screw our off-the-beaten-path self-image and just grab our cameras and Hawaiian shirts.
I love camels. They are just fantastic. They've got attitude and they spit and when they get to their feet you feel like they're going to pitch you off, but they're fantastic. Camels have this intelligence and wry attitude that's really very easy to love. If you've ever met any, I think you'll know what I'm talking about. They really have personalities.
The sky was full of racing storm clouds - the kind of scene that makes you feel small, but also very much a part of nature, and the world.
Gibraltar (Same trip as Spain)
By the time we got to Gibraltar, I was in a very happy, one-with-the-world mood. This tiny island was the place that I became a vegan.
For readers that don't know Gibraltar very well, it's a very small island that guards the ocean entrance from the Atlantic into the Mediterranean. As it's at such a crucial juncture, historically it's been contested by several different countries. Today, it belongs to England as a semi-autonomous region, though Spain is not terribly pleased with that. On a relatively clear day, if you're on the right side of the island, you can see two continents (Europe and Africa) coming almost together with only the Strait of Gibraltar separating them, as well as both the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. The winds blow so hard umbrellas are murdered, hats escape, and you feel like it's a good idea to keep a hand on small children. I could feel the world's history echoing at that spot. Also, Gibraltar has many historical buildings, ancient stalagmite caves, the distinction of being the home of Miss World 2009 (as stated on a billboard as you enter), and... a monkey sanctuary!
Barbary monkeys of Gibraltar
Monkeys of Gibraltar
The Gibraltar monkeys are called Barbary Apes, but, as I was informed more than once, they are actually monkeys. They climb all over the island, and it seems that their population is thriving. The apes have grown very accustomed to humans, due to their protected status on the island, and will come right up and even sit on you.
As we were entering the stalagmite caves, we encountered a troop of monkeys playing and lounging about on a row of bicycle racks. There was already a decent gathering of tourists taking pictures, and many of the younger monkeys were happily jumping onto them, sometimes to the better-dressed tourists' dismay. As I searched for my camera, only to discover it was out of battery (Bah), I felt a sudden weight on my head and shortly after, a second weight on my shoulder. Yep. I had a couple of monkeys using me as a playground. Damn cameras, always out of battery just when you need them! The two sat and rested for a bit until a call from what I assume was their mother brought them back to the bicycle racks.
Call me crazy, but I swear the mother looked straight at me and gave me one of those reproving glances. You know, the ones you get from the playground parents that think your irresponsibility in letting your kid slide down the big slide will rub off onto their little angel. With one last look at me, she herded her two children to about 10 feet away and only then allowed them to continue swinging off the bicycle rack.
As I watched a couple more young monkeys join their play, all under the supervision of Mom, it really struck me how similar monkeys are to us. The children even got scolded with a soft whack with a tail when they were misbehaving! A few more youngsters joined their play, and I could see the warmth of their interaction. And when I looked back to the monkeys that were playing with the crowd of tourists (sitting on their heads and shoulders, stealing their hats, etc.), having a great time and getting a fairly good meal out of it, I could feel that we really aren't so different after all.
When I returned to the States, after about a week of reflection, I made the commitment to becoming a vegan. Fast forward a month or so of reading labels and research, and you basically get to where I am now, mostly adjusted to a vegan lifestyle.
I'd like to write more on my adjustments in becoming a vegan and also about veganism in general, but I've save those for other hubs. It seemed like some out there were curious about vegans, so I wanted to show a more personal side of why someone might choose to be vegan. Hope you enjoyed this hub! Free free to share feedback, comments, and any stories you might have if you're vegan in the comments section. Thanks for reading.