Hello and welcome!
The aim of this site is to provide inspiration, information, and a supportive community for those who are becoming vegan, thinking of becoming vegan, or are generally interested in learning more about vegan living. I read somewhere (if anyone knows the reference, please do tell me) that veganism is not a fixed state (you aren’t completely vegan or not); rather, veganism is a process. And it’s always a process (even for the strictest vegans I know). We are, all of us, capable of discovering new ways to extend our kindness, healthfulness, and our compassionate choices further, all the while making our lifestyle choices more vegan. Even in the realm of food, we might be able to learn more about ingredients that may not be vegan (a cool free smart-phone app for this is ‘Animal-Free’). In the realm of our lives beyond food, there are lots of places to make kinder choices. The purpose of this blog is to work towards documenting the kinder options out there, as well as making general reflections and thinking critically about our place, as human animals, in this world. Thus, we are always in some state or another becoming vegan.
My name is Katie and I’ve lived in Seattle for 6 years now. I’m currently in graduate school, working on my PhD which looks at animals’ status in the food industry. My dissertation research is on dairy production in the Pacific Northwest, with a particular focus on the experience of cows on the dairy farm (at different scales) and at a farm sanctuary. I came to veganism through my Masters thesis. I entered my graduate program wanting to study urban agriculture and the sustainable food movement. While struggling to pin down a precise topic, I started reading with my now-friend and mentor, M.E., who pushed me to consider animals’ experience of the food industry. When I met M.E., I was a pretty enthusiastic meat-eater, justifying my own meat consumption by eating ‘free-range’, ‘organic’, ‘humanely raised’ meat and dairy. I was fairly resistant to opening my mind to thinking about animal suffering (partly because I loved animals and didn’t want to think about their suffering, and partly because I didn’t want to have to change my own eating habits). But, I read The Ethics of What We Eat (see Resources for other book recommendations) and couldn’t look back.
The suffering of animals in the food system is absolutely unparalleled, with 56 billion (26 billion in the U.S. alone) animals killed annually for food. This number was staggering–far too large to imagine, and yet when I opened my mind and my heart to what that scale of slaughter meant, I started to understand that is was not just 56 billion animals, but it was one and one and one (as David Wolfson so eloquently writes about). These were individual animal lives–lives with interests and complex social networks, animals who would not choose this life if given a choice. When I looked with clear eyes at this suffering, my heart broke, and broke again. And I knew that I did not want to continue to be an active supporter of an industry that was capable of the kind of cruelty I was learning about. This transition, for obvious reasons, began with my eating habits and after many hours of talking it through with my husband (Eric), we agreed that we would have to go vegetarian, and preferably vegan.
Going vegetarian was a difficult process for me with (at first) lots of lapses back into eating meat, which made me feel not-so-great physically, and really-not-so-great emotionally. Part of the reason ours was a difficult transition was that I didn’t really do much research on what else to eat. We were shell-shocked. The grocery store was a drag because we didn’t really know how to shop it without heading straight for the meat or deli section. We ended up eating A LOT of pasta. And by a lot, I mean almost every night we had pasta with vegetables, pasta with tomato sauce, pasta with pesto. It was boring and we both started to feel pretty malnourished and deprived.
The fear of feeling deprived is something I hear talked about a lot in discussions on the topic of transitioning to a vegan diet. ‘What will I eat?’ ‘Won’t I be hungry?’ ‘I don’t want to give up food that tastes good,’ ‘I don’t want to give up my favorite foods!’ ‘This was my grandmother’s recipe’. These are all familiar concerns related to becoming vegan or vegetarian. And it makes sense. There is the most basic fact that food is what sustains us, and so a basic concern is that we won’t get enough to eat or be well-nourished. But food is so much more than sustenance. It’s about comfort, it’s about eating together, it’s about cooking and eating recipes that have been passed down through generations, and it’s about celebrating life. Eating is a highly communal, emotional, and cultural activity. And this important reality should not be dismissed lightly. The personal decision to become vegan is one difficulty along the way as we negotiate for ourselves how we will make new traditions or revise old traditions to involve kinder choices. But the real challenge for many is negotiating these choices with family and friends, who may see this choice as a personal attack, as a judgement of them, or as a rejection of long-established important family traditions. There’s nothing quite as difficult, I think, as negotiating Thanksgiving, for example. But these negotiations are inevitably part of the process and the more at peace you are with your own veganism or vegetarianism, the more easily other people will accept it.
When we were in the early stages of vegetarianism, we missed meat and I think it showed in our circle of meat-eating friends and family. They saw it as a deprivation, as a self-imposed suffering and a choice to give up the enjoyable parts of food. I love food more than the average person, I think. I know some people who say they forget to eat, or they have to force themselves to eat (just because they aren’t very interested in food). I cannot identify with this. I love to eat and I frequently am thinking about what I’ll have for lunch while I’m eating breakfast, and what I’ll eat for dinner while I’m eating lunch. I want everything I eat to be delicious and inspiring and I frequently will get upset if food does not live up to those expectations. So, for my friends and family, who knew this about me, they saw this new choice as self-imposed torture. And I think, for them, it reinforced their own decisions to continue to eat meat. They didn’t see a reason not to. Becoming educated about the conditions of animals in the food industry is a painful process (though not nearly so painful as what the animals go through), and seeing a vegetarian diet as one of deprivation and lack is not appealing either. Needless to say, in those early days I was not inspiring anyone to adopt a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. I was deeply depressed about what I was learning, I found it hard to be around people who were still in denial about our treatment of animals, and I was hungry!
The feelings of being deprived that I experienced are one reason why I wanted to start this site–to help people going through the process of becoming vegetarian or vegan not to have to feel that way. For us, because we hadn’t sought out resources to help us, the deprivation lasted a couple of months before we figured out that we needed to get a lot more creative. I started scouring vegan cookbooks, blogs, and recipe websites. We started looking at the grocery store in a new way, relying heavily on the bulk section and the produce section. Much of the site is dedicated to this kind of information and making transitioning to and staying vegetarian/vegan easier!
As is probably clear from the above, I came to veganism through wanting to make a better world for animals. I feel firmly that this is my calling in my professional and my personal life and I can’t see myself ever not working to help animals live happier lives free from suffering. In fact, our future plan is to start and run a sanctuary for farmed animals. For information on sanctuaries doing some really great work, check out ‘Pigs Peace‘ and Animal Place.
The other reasons for becoming vegan came almost as an afterthought or as bonuses to the big bonus that was not contributing to animals’ suffering in the food system. The livestock industry is the single most significant contributor to climate change, which makes it a serious environmental issue to continue to eat meat. One of the things that was a deal-breaker for my mother was finding out that it helped the environment more to become vegetarian than it did to refrain from driving a car. She has been trying to do her part for the environment for years by walking to and from work each day (~4 miles each way!) and using her car as little as possible for other purposes. Now, she is doubly awesome because she doesn’t eat meat or drive!
The other awesome benefit to adopting a plant-based diet is health! Last year, we finally got around to reading The China Study, which tracks a massive study done on instances of disease and their relationship to animal-based proteins. The outcome of the study was a groundbreaking realization that not only would a plant-based diet prevent the big killers (like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, hypertension, high cholesterol), it would actually reverse these diseases. Even just thinking about it again now for the millionth time, it makes my jaw drop how simple a solution it is. Rip Esselstyn (former fire fighter) says ‘it’s an answer so simple it’s criminal’. And it is criminal! Billions of dollars are spent annually on health care which would often not be necessary if the American public would adopt a plant-based diet. A large part of what’s standing in the way of getting this knowledge out to the public is the USDA and other government organizations (in addition to big business) who have financial and political interests in advocating meat and dairy as a major staple of a ‘healthy American diet’. A great documentary, which follows The China Study, is Forks Over Knives (watch the trailer here) . There’s lots of movement currently to advocate a plant-based diet as a healing lifestyle. Kris Carr, for instance, has a really inspirational story about fighting cancer and living strong with a plant-based diet.
This resonates with me, as I’m sure it does for many, because I have a number of people in my circle of family and friends who have, have had, or have died from heart disease, various cancers, diabetes, and other preventable and reversible illnesses. Part of the journey is trying to help other people become informed about taking charge of their health. It’s great when people are responsive and inspired and adopting a plant-based diet makes a difference to their health. But it is also, sadly, part of the deal that some people we love won’t take the steps to be healthier and there’s nothing we can do about it. And so sometimes, it seems to be about accepting that everyone has to make their own choices and that we should continue to be compassionate and helpful in whatever ways we can.
In my own life, becoming vegan has helped me to feel better in several ways. Physically, I have more energy, I lost some weight, my skin cleared up, my digestive system runs a lot more smoothly, and I get sick less (I’m talking very few colds, flus, stomach bugs, etc.). I used to feel the need to do cleanses in order to clean out my body, but on a whole foods, plant-based diet, I don’t feel the need to cleanse because I’m generally not eating things that need to be cleansed out of me. The exception might be sugar (I have a mighty sweet tooth). Occasionally, I over do it with the sweets and feel crappy, but a green juice (inspired by Kris Carr) and an umeboshi plum (inspired by Alicia Silverstone) usually do the trick to setting me straight again. Emotionally, becoming vegan has helped me feel more connected to animals because I don’t feel like I have to turn away from them or deny them fundamental protections which every living creature should have. While it is still very difficult and overwhelmingly depressing at times to do work on animal suffering in the food industry, I feel like I’m on the right path for me and that feels pretty great.
This is my story so far. Thanks so much for reading! I hope you will enjoy what you find on the site as we all evolve and I hope you will share your own experiences, knowledge, and opinions! Please share any questions/comments/suggestions at any time; you can contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or post a comment on any post.