I first became vegetarian in 1995 when my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer (stage 4), and I began to read about ways to cure her. I learned about people who had cured themselves from cancer through their diets, particularly macrobiotic, and the growing research documenting the terrible effects of meat and dairy products on the body. When I became vegetarian at that time, I still ate eggs, but I hadn’t eaten milk products for years due to allergy. My mother passed away a short time later, and I continued my vegetarian lifestyle determined not to die as she did. I explained my choice to people as a health concern, stating that the animals were raised in such horrible and unsanitary conditions that it could not be healthy to eat such products. At that point, I understood on some level the horrors that the animals suffered to feed us, but think I only allowed it into my heart and mind at a fleeting and superficial level.
At some point, years later, I began to eat meat again, though I rarely if ever ate beef, still seeing it as an unhealthy thing to eat. I am not quite sure how it happened. To be honest, I missed the taste of certain barbecued and spiced meats. I think I worried that I wasn’t getting enough protein. I was surrounded by people who ate meat, and my husband at the time, who had gone vegetarian with me, went back to eating meat. I felt alone in my vegetarianism and like an inconvenience to friends and family. I imagine it was a combination of those factors that lured me back to being an omnivore.
Then in February 2004, I had the opportunity to attend the World Premiere of Peaceable Kingdom at Lincoln Center in New York City. From the moment I saw the seemingly endless number of male chicks sliding down chutes and conveyor belts on the way to the dumpster – useless by-products of the egg industry – there was no turning back. The suffering I saw in that film touched a part of me that had been locked away for a long, long time. Then, after the film, when one of the panelists stated, I don’t eat animals because I love and respect them, it was truly one of those life-changing moments. I remember thinking – I love animals too, and if this person can be proud of those feelings and act on those feelings by not eating animals, well, then I can too. And there it began. I stopped eating animals at that moment. I ate eggs from time to time, but I felt terribly guilty when I did so, and eventually gave them up, too.
Being vegan for ethical reasons is very different than giving up meat for health reasons. I definitely feel healthier, which is an added bonus, so to speak, but now I cannot look at meat without seeing needless suffering and sorrow and the flesh of an animal that I would have liked to have known under different, much happier circumstances. I do sometimes miss the taste of certain things – bacon, pulled pork, buffalo wings – but I don’t miss them so much that I would want an animal to die so that I could taste it again.
As a vegan, I’ve experienced rewards I never would have imagined. I feel a sense of peace within me, which I imagine comes partially from the act of living true to what is in my heart. I’ve always been concerned about animals and the environment, so being vegan enables me to act on those feelings each and every day. It’s empowering to be able to choose to not cause pain and suffering several times a day, especially living in a world what seems to be filled with so much of those two things. Also, being vegan is a very conscious and active way of living, and as a result, I feel much more alive and in tune with life around me. It is difficult at times to live being fully aware of the tremendous suffering that animals are experiencing at each and every moment, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. For in opening myself up to feel the suffering, I have opened myself up to love as well.
I feel like I have learned to love again in the truest sense – a love that knows no boundaries – which is why I like to say that I’ve rediscovered “true love.” My heart feels free to love at levels and in ways that I do not ever recall, but I imagine that I was born with and experienced as a child when I looked at the world with wonder and fascination and naturally loved animals. I think that perhaps when we are forced to suppress or hide that love we inherently have for other species so that we can eat them, exterminate them, and use them in the numerous ways our society deems acceptable, we turn off a part of our hearts and a part of us dies. For most of my life, I felt disconnected from the world I claimed to love so much, as if there was some hole in my being, something holding me back. Becoming vegan, I feel whole again. I feel as if a weight has been lifted, and my heart is free.
~Janice in Lincoln Park, NJ