Saturday, January 15, 2011

My Take on the Common Question: Why be Vegan?

After a year of being vegan I never actually told why I do all of this. Grab a chair, some coffee with soy and put your feet up… this might take a while.


* * *
I'm lucky.

January 2007 in Southern India: I was 21, and traveling with 12 other people who were strangers just a week before, but now were my teammates.

It was a Habitat for Humanity trip to help build houses for tsunami victims. I decided sign up out of the blue. I don’t consider myself a world traveler. I have been to India, Canada, numerous states and some other vacation islands you can find per resort websites. And my trip to India, cliché as cliché can be, honestly changed my life.

So, it was January in Southern India, I was 21 on a weathered bus and I looked out the window to see people walking past with colorful fabrics, minimal shoes and children who looked like they hadn’t seen a meal in months…and I thought to myself:

“I am so damn lucky. Dad was right.”

My Dad is a Portuguese immigrant who came to this country when he was 13. When I would put on my little pouty face and complain about why I wanted another Polly Pocket he would gently tell me, “You have no idea how lucky you are to live in this country. Be grateful you have toys at all.”

Then I would pout some more and Mom would be hearing every word, rooting for team Danie and for the Polly Pocket that would magically appear in my stocking at Christmas.

So, it was January in Southern India. I took a deep breath of dirt and dust and sweltering hot air – with the scents only India can provide. Looked at the people outside of the bus and did generally grasp how lucky I was. Here I was -  white, a woman and traveling to this country on break from college. It was one of those unique events where you swear your thoughts have finally out run time and space and they seem to have fallen behind.

Time always catches up however, and as is it resumed it's normal pace my mind centered and I thought, while staring out at trees, dirt, and a florescent fabrics, “I need to go home and I need to help make this world a better place.” And that’s what I thought.

It’s cliche, I understand that. But seriously, that’s what I thought.

* * *
The Veggie Timeline

Now, I know what you may be thinking. “Oh, so you went home and became a vegan.” And the truth is no. I went back to college to finish my last semester, had an awful stomach pain for a week and a half and had my mother convince me that I really didn’t have to give away all the clothes in my closet to be a better person. Mothers know best of course.

To clarify, I became a pesca-vegetarian in 2004, including in my diet minimal seafood, eggs, and other dairy products. I’ve always disliked cheese and yogurt for some odd reason, so they were doomed from the beginning. The deciding event happened after I bit into a turkey burger and could only picture the poor turkey staring at me. While I chewed, that darn turkey was all I could think about. So the burger went back into the basket and stayed there.

I was a pesca-vegetarian. It was great, until I started noticing in the summer of 2009 that every time I reached for a piece of fish I instinctively felt guilty. While I chewed that darn salmon all I could think about was Pixar’s Finding Nemo “Fish are friends not food!” relaying over and over. It’s amazing how catchy children's movies are – oh those babysitting days.

December 2009, I started watching a lot of documentaries and had received The Kind Diet by Alicia Silverstone from my sister as a Christmas present. As my knowledge started to increase about food structures and the vegan lifestyle, I began to think this could actually be a possibility for me. I could do it… why not, right? As it was, my favorite animal product that I was consuming at the time was soft serve frozen yogurt and clearly that was not a need in my diet (although some may argue).

January 1, 2010. First day as a vegan.

During the transition, I told myself I would do it for a month and if I was really craving something, or my body told me I needed to eat an animal product then I would stop. But it hasn’t told me I need to go for the pizza or honey. It hasn’t screamed for a burger or bacon. It has told me “You want Brussels sprouts or sweet potato.”

I listened to listen to my body and it made all the difference.




* * *
Why, oh why? There are so many reasons.

I didn’t choose to be vegan so I could write about something. I write because veganism has a greater purpose, and like I decided in India, it’s one step to “help to make the world a better place”. It's just something I can do, that’s within my power at the present moment.

Began vegan is first a privilege and then a choice, particularly the way our food structures are set-up in America. If you have the ability to know where your next meal is coming from, that’s a privilege. If you know that you can afford to feed your whole family with fresh food, that’s a privilege. If you choose to eat kale over a hamburger because you can – that’s a choice.

In my mind, the distinction between privilege and choice is gravely important. I understand that it’s hard to justify choosing a plant-based diet for your family when just getting food on the table is a struggle. How would one even begin to convince others that this is a healthier choice when familiar foods provide safety and security? There is a reason certain items get labeled “comfort food” and there is a reason why we need to guide our youth to healthier choices.

My point is that I make this choice because I can make it. When you look past the initial curiosity and uniqueness, past the hipness and fabulous vegan baked goods you ask yourself why? Why do you do it?  Everyone may have a different, yet very similar answer.

I choose to be vegan because I feel better on a plant-based diet; because it’s better for the environment; because living things do not have to suffer for my energy; because our food systems lead people to sickness and disease; and because I can sustain the cruelty-free lifestyle.

If you choose a vegan diet and are lucky enough to sustain it mentally, physically and economically, then it is the right choice for you, as well.

* * *
 Taking care of me.

The first year as a vegan has had trials and tomfoolery. Measuring tofu and greens. Pondering at the farmer’s market. Releasing of material items that don’t serve my needs anymore like saying Farewell to my Pretty, Pretty Coach Bag. Or dealing with work situations like Bullies and Business Dinner. Trying to co-exist with a meat eating Portuguese family and seeing the beauty in Sunbeams and Apple Trees. It’s been a year of interesting compromises and misunderstandings, failed recipes and fabulous food. But overall, things have been pretty darn good with all the veggie madness.

My goal is to keep life interesting and purposeful. Continue to learn more about health choices and products. Give up bad habits and work towards better health. Try to be kind with myself as life gets hectic. Remind myself that even the little steps are giant ones.

The way I think about my choice to be vegan is this: I will follow a vegan diet and lifestyle until it does not serve my health. Because as the wise people who have come into my life always tell me, “You must take care of yourself before you can help anyone else.”

Thanks,
Danie


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