On Being Vegan

A year ago, I decided to become a vegan. When I was eight, I stopped eating red meat, went back and forth with poultry for about a decade, and fluctuated between pescatarian and veganism since college. Over the last few years, I’ve had a few spurts where I gave up fish, but still ate cheese, or vice versa. Finally, though, I decided on September 16, 2019, while I was on a plane back from New York, that I would see how it felt not to eat any animal products. At some point, I told myself I would try to make it a year. Here I am.

Honestly, it’s been easy. I thought I’d miss cheese…being in the wine business and having bought a lot of cheese professionally, it was a big part of my diet. But I don’t. I used to love cooking and eating seafood, but I’ve adapted. Being vegan certainly tests my creativity in the kitchen, but it’s fun…I’ve never cooked so much, but that is partly a result of the pandemic. I miss the ritual of going out for sushi with friends but I’m good with avocado rolls. I’ve never used a lot of honey so once I wrapped my head around the fact that being vegan also means not profiting off of animals’ labor, I gave that up, too. Before taking vitamin capsules I make sure there is no gelatin. I’ve gotten accustomed to reading all labels, even in natural food markets.

However, the difference between being vegan and following a plant-based diet is one of lifestyle…it’s not just food. Given the current situation, I haven’t had much need to buy clothes, but the few purchases I’ve made do not have any animal products. I’m on the fence when it comes to used clothing. I have a closet filled with leather, wool, silk, and cashmere and feel it would be senseless to discard the clothes I still wear. Maybe I’m just making an excuse but what’s the point in throwing or giving away jackets, sweaters, and shoes if I’m going to replace them with others.

The irony is that nature is cruel. Many animals, people included, have a predatory instinct. I witnessed this last week when my cat killed a baby mouse, brought it into the house, and batted it around until I realized that the gray thing he was swiping was not an extension of his tail. I get that many animals have to rely on other animals for food. What sets humans – in many but not all parts of the world – apart is that we have the cognitive ability to know that we have options. I can easily find plant-based protein.  Granted, living in California in this day and age, it is not hard. However, when I tried being vegan 30 years ago, it was more difficult. Still, though, if I was really willing to do the work, I could have stuck to a vegan diet earlier in my life.

I can understand killing animals for food, but not sport. People who hunt for fun are cold-blooded killers and belong in prison. Some cultures continue to rely on animal skins for clothing and protection, but there are no excuses in areas where there are abundant alternatives to staying warm. We’re all going to die at some point, so if our bodies can become a source of sustaining other lives, using animals for food or clothing makes sense – and here I include human beings…please feed me to the vultures or compost me when my time is up. Yet, I don’t think we should raise animals deliberately to profit off of their bodies. There are too many cows in the world already. Cow’s milk is meant for calves in the way that human milk is intended for human babies. Cows also produce methane gas, a contributor to global warming. Pigs are hella smart…you don’t think they know when they are being brought to slaughter? I’ve also read that human flesh taste a lot like pork. I can go on about the various reasons not to eat or wear specific animals, but I try to respect people’s choices, and sometimes it’s a matter of survival.

But we have to come to terms with the fact that a big reason why people eat so much meat is that our agriculture policy is upside down. Our government gives massive subsidies to an industry that treats animals inhumanely and uses hazardous chemicals to cut costs. This might make food cheaper, but in the end, it creates a tiered system where those who have enough disposable income can afford to eat organically and entertain the idea of not eating meat at all. Big Ag is a powerful lobby, and you won’t find too many politicians – Democrat or Republican – willing to stand up to them.

Being vegan has, more than anything, been a spiritual awakening. I don’t mean this in a religious sense, but it’s helped me feel more connected to the natural world, and that’s given me a sense of calm and heightened purpose. I try not to kill bugs though admittedly, I have my limits when it comes to fruit flies. I appreciate sitting in my backyard, surrounded by greenery in a way I didn’t before. I even long for having a garden so I can grow my own food. Being vegan has made me think more about the circle of life, how humans artificially changed it, and how we can get back to a better balance. I don’t think you have to stop eating and wearing animals to get here, but you need to stop and think about the role animals have in our world, and respect their right to live without undue suffering. Every life has value, and if we can treat animals with greater tenderness, we might have something left over for each other.

I can’t say that I’ll be vegan for the rest of my life, but I can say that I have absolutely no desire to reintroduce animal products into my diet or buy new clothing made from animal fur or skin right now or see myself feeling different in the future. Human beings can be cruel but we also have the ability to show those with less agency kindness and respect. Being vegan makes me want to be a better person.