With a respectable corporate job and a nice little house tucked neatly in the suburbs, I settled comfortably into middle age and conformity. The older I got, the less desire or incentive I had to be different or stand out from the crowd. The only remaining vestige of my college years when I was less of a conformist, in middle age I continued to be a lacto-ovo vegetarian, more or less. I found that being a more or less vegetarian was more or less unremarkable; that is, it was generally quite easy to fit in with the crowd and not bring any attention to myself. After all, even the worst of steakhouses’ menus have a nice trendy salad or two from which I could choose. And no one ever gave my choice a second thought!
But last fall, something happened that shook me out of my complacency and ultimately lead me to reject one of the most fundamental rituals of our society; the almighty, all-American, animal-centric way of eating. Last fall, I found myself in the middle of a heart-wrenching situation. This situation forced me to quickly make a decision. While I tried to make the best one I could given the circumstances, I realized shortly afterwards that my decision was the worst possible. Unfortunately, my decision and its tragic consequences will haunt me for the rest of my life. Fortunately, this same decision and its tragic consequences compelled me to revisit several other ill conceived decisions I’ve made, to try to make positive changes.
Of these, the first decision I revisited was my long-ago decision to be a vegetarian. You see, I had made that decision for humanitarian reasons, but from time to time over the years I would experience a vague, nagging feeling that perhaps the dairy and egg industries weren’t so humane after all. Until last fall, I was always able to shrug that vague nagging feeling off just as quickly as I experienced it, thus managing to avoid doing even the most perfunctory research to confirm or dispel those unpleasant, but fleeting, thoughts. After all, there were so many other matters to occupy my thoughts ….
Finally I did my long overdue homework. After reading lots of articles and listening to some great podcasts (including Colleen’s excellent articles, podcasts, and her links to other great resources) I finally realized the error of being only vegetarian. In order to produce milk (and of course all dairy derivatives including such vegetarian staples as cheese and yogurt), cows must give birth. Continuously. They give birth to “surplus” calves, which are not only subject to horribly inhumane conditions for the duration of their short life, but slaughtered for veal within months of birth.
As for the cow that produces milk and “surplus” calves, once her milk production diminishes she is sent to the same cruel slaughterhouse as her offspring. Humane egg production is also a myth. Both the living conditions and the manner in which chickens are slaughtered once their egg production diminishes are beyond deplorable. Even “free range” chickens are subject to many of the same abuses as their caged counterparts. I realized with a horrible sense of chagrin that because of my deliberate ignorance, for years I had actually been supporting the very same heinous industry I thought I was avoiding.
I also learned a lot about the nutritional aspects of a vegan diet. While I’m not a nutritional expert, I’ve read enough pro- and anti-vegan diet nutritional literature so that I’m completely convinced that I will get all the nutrients I need to be healthy for the rest of my life from a vegan diet. I may get sick in the future, but it won’t be because of my diet. Conversely, I’ll be more likely to avoid some of the illnesses that are linked to an animal-based diet, including coronary artery disease and some types of cancers. To summarize what I learned about vegan nutrition and diet, in their 2003 position paper, the American Dietetic Association concludes, “Well-planned vegan and other types of vegetarian diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including during pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood and adolescence.”
Of the countless decisions I’ve made in my life, I’ve questioned many over the years and revisited a few more recently. There have been precious few about which I both feel and know with complete certainty are the right decision. My decision to become vegan is one of those precious few. I celebrate the fact that I now stand out from the majority, in that my life is no longer rooted in the suffering and death of others. I also celebrate the endless variety of tasty, healthful, nutritious plant-based foods and recipes in which to prepare them.
Lori in Mansfield, Massachusetts