I’ll warn you right up front that this year-in-review post is going to sound more than a little self-righteous, or at least self-centered. Heck, I managed to already do that in the title. ‘Sorry, it can’t be helped when discussing a moral decision. I’ll put down the action figures to talk about my experience in the first year of eating a vegan diet. And when I’m done, I’d like to hear from you, veggies and omnivores alike, about the reasons that you eat the things you’ve chosen to eat.
I’ve wrestled with how to answer when people ask, “Why’d you become a vegan?” Y’see, I only just changed my way of eating in 2011. So my take on it is still very fresh, as is the reaction from everyone around me. A quick insight into my personality: I’m a hardcore pragmatist with plenty of control issues and a creative bent – I went to school for painting and I manage a successful custom framing store. And now I try to be a writer. So my instinct, my very strong instinct, when someone would ask why I became a vegan was that there must be an answer I could give that would sum it up perfectly and influence them to become one too. One or two simple phrases that would squash all debate, I just had to figure them out. Argh! – what could the right combination of words possibly be?! I kept a few at the forefront of my mind to say to mystified in-laws and co-workers:
- “I can’t unknow what I’ve learned about the treatment of animals.”
- “There are plenty of other things to eat that don’t impact animals.”
- “I think that the suffering endured by factory-farmed animals is obscene.”
But hearing these phrases out loud sounded weak and fell short of the passion I was itching to share. “Passion” is the best way I can describe how I began to feel about my new diet. I’m an atheist, but I think I now understand how people of faith must feel when they want to share their beliefs with others and even convert them. Being a vegan means that I’ve done something not for myself, but for another living animal who can’t speak for or defend itself. I’ve found that I can have an effect outside of my own microcosmos. And at nearly 40 years old, that gave me a sense of fulfillment that nothing else had in my entire life. Who wouldn’t want to share that with other people?
Then, I had a real moment of clarity this Christmas. At the in-laws’ family dinner, my wife’s niece, Ashley, suddenly shouted across the table in front of the 8 of us, “Uncle Jake, why are you a vegan?” Ok, so I’m on the spot. Laurie and I are the only ones not eating turkey. I’m sitting next to her father who’s done his share of hunting. Here’s my big chance to make my point in the eyes of a child who asked an honest question. I had to speak fast before anyone could make a quip. “Because eating meat isn’t fair to the animals. They don’t get to live their normal lives.” She seemed to stop and think about that and there were no retorts or contradictions from the table. I thought, “Was it that easy? Did I just discover the answer that I can tell people in two short sentences?” Of course not. The question of how to live one’s life is infinitely complicated and completely different for each individual. No, the epiphany that I had in that moment, was how effortlessly I produced an answer for Ashley. I didn’t have time to calculate the statistics that I was going to argue or the talking points that I could volley at her. I spoke instinctively and naturally. The answer was already inside me. I didn’t have to contrive it, I merely had to move my mouth.
One of the most important years of my life is drawing to a close, and I think the moment at that dinner table was the icing on the dairy-free cake. I’ve completed the transition, no longer just acting like someone who is committed to being compassionate toward animals, but feeling and living like it. It’s not something that I have to work at anymore, or try to be. This is who I am.