Following up from my review from a couple weeks ago of the debate “Should Animals Be Off the Menu”, I’m sharing this from my own blog, I Am What I Eat. A few months ago I committed to a plan to eat more deliberately, and for me, that meant going vegan. I decided to do it for a multitude of reasons: reducing my carbon footprint, improving my health, standing against capitalism-driven federal food subsidies, and making an effort to live daily with compassion and mindfulness.
When I went into this, I felt almost ashamed to tell anyone what I was doing. Veganism comes with such a heavy social stigma, I was expecting to be met with skepticism and disdain. I was steeling myself to have my actions and beliefs questioned and challenged, and was preparing for the debates. But as it turns out almost everyone who I’ve told – from friends to strangers alike – have been very supportive about the endeavor. In fact, my sharing seems to encourage others to share too, and one of my favorite parts about this process so far has been hearing other people’s stories. How they have eaten, how they eat, and how they wish they would/could eat.
The number one question I get from people is, “is going vegan hard to do?”, which surprises me (perhaps because I, personally, would have jumped straight to those challenging WHY questions myself). But I like this question, because it shows curiosity, openness to learning about new things, respect for what I am doing, and maybe even hints at the fact that they are wondering if it’s something they could do, too. (And I believe it is.)
The answer, by the way, is no. For me, it hasn’t been hard. In fact, not nearly as hard as I thought it would be when I first started making small changes. And I am very aware that there are a lot of factors that make that true for my experience, whereas other people might struggle a lot more with it. For instance, I am able to afford it (something I could not have done at any other point in my entire life until six months ago), I don’t have to prepare meals for anyone else (especially for children, although I do own a carnivorous kitten), I have enough free time to plan meals ahead of time and cook a lot at home, and I was raised to appreciate a pretty vegetarian palate.
But I think the main reason it has been relatively easy for me is the way I’ve gone about making these changes. Not only has it been transitional, but I never set a specific date or length of time for cutting things out of my diet. I simply stopped eating them when I didn’t want them anymore. That was really easy with meat, and was surprisingly easy with dairy and eggs. I think I missed cheese for about a week, but now I don’t even think about it anymore. When I try to make deliberate choices about everything I eat, more often than not, it quite simply comes down to the fact that I don’t want to eat animal products because I don’t like how it will make me feel – physically, or emotionally.
However, I also will “give in” to cravings. This is actually something that I think is really important. The ascetic principles espoused by diet culture are extremely damaging, especially to young girls and women. There is a difference between eating in moderation and denying yourself any indulgence. And it is a psychological truth that the more you deny yourself something, the stronger the craving will become, and the more likely you are to overindulge (which is not the same thing as eating deliberately). So the other day, when I found myself face to face with some beautiful glazed donuts, I chose to have one. I mentally acknowledged the cows and chickens who helped make it, and I ate that thing – full of high fructose corn syrup, saturated fat, preservatives, milk and eggs as I’m sure it was – with Intention! My craving was sated, and probably will be for a very long time now. Especially because it didn’t make me feel very good over all, even if it did taste good for a few moments. These days I spend more time considering what is a worthy price for a few moments of fleeting tastiness?
So, unlike my friend who used to be vegan but felt like he was “never not depriving” himself, I don’t feel like I am ever depriving myself. What it comes down to is that I want to be deliberate about what I eat, whatever that may be. No one is forcing my to be vegan. Those are just the choices that seem right to me when I take the time to think about how I nourish myself.
And the funny thing is, I think a lot of people would do the same thing. A lot of people tell me that they “would if they could”, or that they have been thinking about making more vegetarian or vegan choices in their diets. We like and admire animals – I think it is natural to feel compassion for them. Rare is the person who is not at least slightly discomfited by the act of killing an animal for food – even farmers and hunters will tell you that. And in my opinion, the problem today is that we are so far removed from this act of slaughter that it is bereft not only of intention and deliberate choice, but also of mercy, compassion, and respect for the animal’s life.
And in that view, even though I don’t feel like I am depriving myself with this diet, I also don’t think it would be the worst thing if I were depriving myself. Abstinence can be a noble practice. It seems to me that what it comes down to is making a choice between indulging in something that tastes good, or making a deliberate choice to respect the life of an animal and the well-being of the earth. Vegan food can taste good and vegan food can be nourishing – animal food is not a necessary part of our diets today, so I choose not to treat animals as a commodity for my own pleasure.
I find it is often difficult to find time for the things that matter most to me in this fast-paced, technological age. So this is one way for me to live in accordance with the core values which I believe in most.
Emma Waldron (Staff Writer, Rutgers University) Emma Waldron is a Rutgers alumna and currently works with first-year students as an academic advisor. She spent her formative years in Boulder CO before relocating to the Garden State, and recently spent a year living in Bristol, England where she completed her MA in Performance Research. Her research focuses on the concept of authentic identity, and her dissertation addressed issues of gender and musical performativity in Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Emma has recently become vegan, and documents the transformation on her blog “I Am What I Eat”. Emma spends a lot of time thinking about Judith Butler, iambic pentameter, vegan cookies, Ralph Waldo Emerson, sunshine, drag queens, Nordic larp, and tea.