Growing up in California, I had always had a vague familiarity with vegetarianism and healthy eating. However, the first personal encounter I had with a vegetarian was when I met my friend Kerry in high school. Later on, both she and I ended up in New York for college, and in our freshman year, we decided to go vegan together. By this time, I too was a vegetarian. This happened quite suddenly one night as I was eating some chicken, and I remember looking down at the it, with all the bumps on its skin and thinking to myself, "why am I eating this?" I remember when I first went veg., I had told myself that Fridays would be my "free" days where I could eat anything that I wanted, but I never once actually ate a piece of meat on Fridays. Kerry and I set our V-date for my 18th birthday and in the weeks leading up to that day, I prepared by eating a lifetime supply of goat cheese and ice cream.
image courtesy of mikescandywrappers.com
The day came, and we became vegans. Back in those days (the mid-90's) there were not as many vegan resources as there are today, and every time we found something vegan (who remembers Goldenberg's Peanut Chews??) it seemed like a great triumph. My first cookbook was Eva Batt's "Vegan Cooking" and I remember feeling slightly panicked at all the exotic and unfamiliar things I read about (tvp?? what is that?!). I still lived at home at the time, and my mother was good about cooking me a smaller meat-free version of whatever the family was eating that night. Health, nutrition, and cooking were far from my mind.
At the same time, I was getting into the swing of college, and not a single one of my new friends was a vegetarian. In fact, I remember getting teased and challenged on a daily basis. Without a thorough knowledge of facts and arguments, I couldn't really defend myself very well, and my veganism began seeming a bit unfounded, even to me. In less than 2 years, I gave up veganism. I remember the day exactly- the French club was on a field trip to New York City, and we stopped at a French restaurant in midtown. There were huge stacks of vegetables and charcuterie (cold cuts) on the tables and you were supposed to cut chunks for yourself, rustic style. I munched on some veggies as my friends went crazy over the meat. By the time our food was served, something inside me had switched off. As my friends sang their encouragement, I took a bite of duck. I thought it was delicious. I didn't give it a second thought, at least that I was aware of.
Fast forward 6 years. I had graduated college, worked in New York City, and moved to California to begin graduate school. This time, I had contact with many more vegetarians, I was much more aware of the issues of health and nutrition, I was more independent, and most importantly, I had access to much more information. (Thank you, Internet). In February of 2004, I decided to see if I could be vegan for one month. The timing was ideal- I was living away from Daiku and my family, and I had just started exercising and becoming aware of the effects of my choices on my body. Since I had been vegan previously, a lot of things, such as reading labels and recognizing ingredients, came back to me very easily. I was surprised at how much better many things tasted. (I think the soymilk industry has progressed by leaps and bounds in the last 10-15 years, for example). And the options! The first time I bought Soy Delicious Purely Decadent (*click on the link for coupons*)ice cream (chocolate brownie almond),I swooned with delight. I thought, "if I can have things like this, this is not going to be very hard." February went by in a flash, and I knew in my heart that this is what I wanted to be doing. I no longer wanted to put my sympathy for animals and the horrors that they live through in factory farms in the back of my mind.
Then, it was time to tell Daiku. At first, he was apprehensive. Our relationship was founded on a mutual love of food, cooking, and eating. (I had stopped being vegan shortly after we met.) We were true foodies who had fond memories of extraordinary dining experiences. We had gone to restaurants such as Jean Georges and the Gramercy Tavern. We had dined at some fantastic sushi restaurants on the West Coast, and dreamed of one day doing the same in Japan. We had eaten fresh seafood cocktails on the beach in Mexico and foot-long sausages in small towns in Germany. We had fantasized about one day traveling (Daiku's first choice: Vietnam and southeast Asia in general, Bazu's first choice, Sénégal and West Africa in general) to different countries, tasting our way through the authentic foods of each one. Would this all come to a halt?
Neither of us knew the answers, but we both knew that we were willing to adapt and compromise for each other. When we once again began to live together, we agreed that we wouldn't have meat in the house, but that I wouldn't pressure Daiku when we were out. I can't say that it has always been smooth sailing (I can't help but get angry sometimes when he eats meat, and he can't help feeling betrayed and defensive) but we have both grown from the experience. So far, since going vegan, I have managed to successfully eat vegetarian in Montréal and Rio de Janeiro, but I'm not sure what I'd do in other countries. There is a fine line between respecting your ethical boundaries and closing yourself off to new experiences. I will just have to negotiate that line anew with each coming experience.
How am I different now than when when I was first an (unsuccessful) vegan? I know how to cook, and thanks to the Internet and especially all of your wonderful blogs, I have more choices about what to eat than ever. I know much more about the factory farming system, which has strengthened my resolve to resist it and what it stands for. I have realized that, in a lot of ways, egg and dairy production involves much more suffering than that of meat. I have learned to not strive for perfection (as you know, I do consume honey and occasionally things with small amounts of dairy in the ingredients list) and instead strive to always learn more. I have 2 cats that remind me every day that animals have souls. I am much more concerned about food and agriculture, and the influences of capitalism and special interests on what we eat. I am convinced that eating an animal-free diet is a sure way to combat environmental degradation. And darn it, companies like MooShoes just make is so easy to buy cruelty-free!
So that's my long-winded way of recognizing this month as the month where I decided, once and for all, that I want to live a life of compassion, as free of cruelty, dominance, and suffering as I can make it. I am not done learning and expanding my knowledge, and I thank all of you who have taught me so much and been a part of my journey.