I have always been a very compassionate person. Even as a kid, I would always make sure that all kids were part of the games we were playing. If someone was by himself or herself, I would walk over and invite them to join the rest of the group.
I also always loved watching and playing with animals. Either my dogs, cats or even the adventurous squirrel that came to feast on the bird feeder. Even after being bitten by a huge dog while collecting money for sick kids, I still liked dogs. I would even rescue spiders and bugs. Well, once I manage to get over my very irrational fear of spiders that is. I would gently escort them outside. Or ask someone else to do it for me. I’ve always been very interested in living things and people and to try to understand how they feel.
For the longest time, I wasn’t able to see anything else than the whole animal when I would eat meat. I didn’t really enjoy it, but I didn’t know any better. I did eat meat for most of my life, not having the courage to say no and mostly not realizing that not eating meat was even an option. I even developed a taste for steak for a while, but just like anything else, the more you eat some the more your body seems to crave it. (It’s the same with chocolate, or broccoli, believe it or not!) Being surrounded by meat eater, I found it difficult to be true to myself, so I followed suit. After what felt like a very long time, I started to adapt my favourite recipes using faux meat. It was my first step towards vegetarianism and veganism.
I’ll always remember the last time I cooked meat. It was Thanksgiving, and I was getting a turkey ready. The moment when you wash the turkey and have to get the neck and the insides out grossed me out to a point where I thought I would throw up right there. That’s when it became obvious to me; I couldn’t do this any longer. No matter what my then-boyfriend thought, I was not going to cook or eat any more meat.
Of course, it wasn’t his decision to stop eating meat, so we agreed that we would not have meat in the house anymore, but if he wanted to have some he was welcome to eat meat in restaurants. As much as I no longer wanted to eat meat, I could understand he was not there yet.
Last year, after being vegetarian for a few years, I heard about the vegan challenge. It’s a three-week challenge usually happening in January. I had been slowly transitioning towards veganism but I needed an extra push. So being my challenge-obsessed self, I joined. I liked the convenience of receiving a menu for the three weeks including tasty recipes to try. I didn’t follow it to the dot because I can be quite stubborn, but it did inspire me in my cooking by experiencing new tastes and ingredients. I also started looking into vegan-friendly restaurants in the city I was in. Once the challenge was over, I didn’t feel the need to stop. So I kept going. I do admit I might have cheated a few times over the year, not reading all the ingredients carefully enough and realizing afterwards that some animal products had been added to the food I had eaten. At one point I had to remind myself that it is a process, and just like exercising, if you skip one day or make a mistake, you have to get back to it instead of quitting altogether!
When people learn that I am vegan, they are usually quite curious as to why I decided to stop eating meat and all animal products. It was a long operation, over many years. Filled with challenging moments. Like going to a Christmas dinner with my extended family and the only option for me to eat was bread and salad. I had thought this might happen so I had brought my own hummus. I was okay with that, but I hadn’t anticipated all the questions and judging comments. Which leads me to a very important issue for me.
I can’t and I won’t judge people who eat meat because I was a meat-eater not that long ago. What I can do, though, is answer questions truthfully when people ask. Anybody who is interested in learning about how the animal gets turned into food can easily find movies, articles and videos about it. I do not find it to be my place to tell people what they should or shouldn’t be doing. The main reason being that I know how I react when I’m being told what I should be doing. I instantly close off and stop listening to the arguments. Everybody is on their own path. But sometimes I wish people would have the same conscience when they learn that I’m a vegan. I don’t judge meat-eaters, and I do not want to be judged for my choices.
But what do you eat?
That’s my favourite question which comes up every time without fail. People are so curious about this whole vegan thing they seem to forget that not every single thing they eat has meat or animal products in it. The number of times I was told: But what do you eat?! It’s like they think that because I don’t eat animal flesh and other products, I can’t possibly be feeding myself appropriately… They don’t seem to realize that I eat a lot more varied than anybody I know. I love cooking and discovering new flavours so I never eat the same thing.
That being said, one thing people seem to assume is that being vegan means eating healthy. It definitely can be healthier, but it’s very easy to live on cookies, ice cream, crisps, candies, chocolate, etc. As easy as it is for a meat-eater! There’s always vegan options to everything you could possibly want. The vegan chocolate ice cream being, of course, one of my favourite discoveries!
Another comment I always hear is: But I could never live without cheese! Well, I didn’t think I could either when I started, but it’s a lot easier than it looks like. You just skip the aisle when grocery shopping and before you know it you’ll have even forgotten you used to eat it. One thing I admit I do miss sometimes is the convenience of buying a quiche or a pizza and not having to cook, but I don’t miss this enough to actually go and buy one! It’s usually the laziness talking, but once I start cooking and smell the spices and know that it will be so tasty, I forget all about the fatty tasteless pizzas and burgers of this world.
Food for thoughts
One thing I realized one day while standing in a field in Callander, Scotland, surrounded by adorable cows is this: I don’t think one can claim to love animals and yet kill, torture, and encourage abuse in the name of getting proteins. If you truly love animals, you can’t really eat them. It’s not logical. Just like it’s not logical to say that eating dog meat is not okay while eating fish, chicken, pork or cow. Animals raised for consumption, whether they are dogs, cats, cows, pigs, etc. are kept and killed in a similar fashion. So why would it be acceptable for one animal and not for the other?
I went walking in the forest with a friend one day and we walked past the remains of a dead deer. My friend said something about the vegan me not going to like this. Not liking to see a decomposing animal body had absolutely nothing to do with being vegan. It was just disgusting and sad. She seemed to think I couldn’t see or think about dead animals, where in fact I probably think more about how they die than most of my meat-eating friends. Ignorance is bliss to a certain extent. Because once you know it makes it very difficult to justify your choices.
Looking back, I wish I would have become a vegan or vegetarian earlier, but I can’t change the past, only today. And today I don’t eat meat or animal products. And now that I’ve been talking and thinking about food, it’s lunch time!
What food do you think you could never live without? Would you give vegetarianism or veganism a try for a week? What’s your favourite meat-free dish?