Many people have asked me in the past few weeks to share my story of how I decided to go vegan. It made me think of how I have hesitated writing about it, because I don’t have a “fantastic” story around my transition. I didn’t cure myself from cancer or Crohn’s disease, and I don’t have a long dramatic story about how I slowly incorporated new, step-by step eating habits while on a ‘bumpy’ road towards being a full blown vegan.
No, I have in fact never had any health issues (other than I packed on a couple of dozen pounds just after getting married and going to culinary school, but I quickly adjusted my weight), and I pretty much went vegan overnight after I made the decision.
What I did have, was an enormous compassion for animals. But I felt like a fraud, because I was still eating them. I decided to go vegan one day because I could no longer look myself in the mirror with a straight face while uttering the words “I’m an animal lover”. I had been living a ‘double life’ for so many years, eating meat, dairy, eggs and fish, while simultaneously getting teary eyed when I saw any animal on TV. I was cuddling my dogs, telling them how much I loved them, while chowing down on pork belly on Christmas Eve. Crying over the poor dolphins that were slaughtered in Japan, yet eating fish and chicken on a daily basis. It took me a while until I saw the irony in this.
Growing up in Norway, I had the privilege of having 7 cats, 3 horses, a dozen ducks and two goats as animal companions throughout my childhood, just to name a few. But like so many people, I was conditioned and taught to make a huge disconnect between animals and what ended up on my plate. The one exception I remember clearly is when my dad slaughtered our ducks that I had played with for weeks and months, and told my mom to cook them. She prepared one meal, and then declared “I’m NOT eating this”, and threw the other 10 processed ducks she had in the freezer in the garbage. Pretty ironic, since she would make lamb, beef, pork and fish on a weekly basis. But because she had befriended them in our backyard, realizing they had personalities just like we humans do, she couldn’t stomach actually devouring them.
Years later, when a vegan friend of mine kept posting videos and sending me emails with disturbing facts about how factory farmed animals are treated on a daily basis, I would cry like a baby and my whole day was “ruined” (I think the animals had it slightly worse than me…). To which my husband replied “Stop watching those videos, they are just upsetting you, each and every time, why do you do this to yourself? Just shut off the computer!” In his mind, as it had been in mine for so many years, it was just easier to ignore it, pretending these things don’t go on, save ourselves the uncomfortable moments, and continue consuming the meals we’ve grown up to love and enjoy. Or we could make ourselves feel better by purchasing “organic”, “cage free”, “pasture raised” and “grass fed”, because after all .. these animals just want to live for us, come into the world and leave it whenever we decide appropriate, just so we can enjoy a few moments of pleasure on the plate.. People love to hear positive things about their bad habits. But, I digress.
I finally had an “aha” moment in late 2013, when I had been working on my personal development and my spirituality. I was searching for my “why”, why I was put here on earth, and realized I wanted so desperately to show compassion for innocent animals, not just my fellow human beings. I increasingly felt out of alignment with how I desired to live.
Honestly speaking, I was s**t scared to give up animal foods, because I was heavily involved in bodybuilding at the time, and was taught that in order to keep my muscles, I had to eat chicken and tilapia six times a day (preferably cold) and how was I going to live without my Greek yogurt? I mean, it was SO full of protein?!!? Secondly, I had a catering company that was known for “farm to table” cooking, and thirdly I lived with a meat-loving, chef-husband who I knew had no desire whatsoever to go vegan with me. So you see, I had a lot of excuses and “reasons” too, I could have easily told myself it was too difficult, my lifestyle wouldn’t allow it, I would have to change too much, etc.
But in the end, my conscience and the animals won and I decided right there and then on that afternoon in late September that animal flesh would no longer hit my lips. It was the best decision I’ve ever made!! I didn’t look back once, and as so many vegans do, thought to myself, “I only wish I had done it sooner.”
The truth is, it’s so much easier to stay vegan and never stray when you are vegan for the animals. When you develop a compassion that goes beyond the human race, but extend to all living beings, realizing we are all one, it is simply no longer an option to partake in the cruel and unnecessary practices that go on today. And when on top of it, eating meat and dairy is scientifically proven to be bad for your health – then it begs the question: why on earth do we continue this madness? With all the delicious and creative plant foods that exist today, we can’t use the excuse “what is there to eat” anymore… You mean, you can no longer have the 5 or 6 different kinds of meat you’ve been eating for decades over and over and feel restricted by the HUNDREDS of plant based options? Now, who’s restricted?
I’m not telling you to go vegan overnight, like I did. Just do some research and get informed, both when it comes to animal farming and eating for health, and make your decision based on that. Luckily, we live in a world that is slowly changing in the right direction, as people wake up to the fact that our current ways are destroying the planet, and we need to do something about it to save our future generations. More and more plant based options are available everywhere, and we also need to remember that fruits, vegetables and whole grains was the ORIGINAL diet of everyone on this planet. Let’s get back to eating real food!
I was pleasantly surprised to discover, as someone who had only experienced the limited menu of a meat eater, that a whole food, plant based diet not only is the healthiest way to eat, but my culinary repertoire expanded beyond my imagination. I always say, vegan chefs are some of the most creative beings on the planet. I am simply amazed each and every day at how it’s not only possible to recreate every meat and dairy dish you are familiar with, but the vegan version tastes even better! Not to mention, comes with no risk of heart disease, cancer or diabetes. It’s so much fun to cook now, and the food gives me energy beyond belief, because it’s based on living, vibrant ingredients, not dead, lifeless ones.
If you find this uncomfortable to read, I would like to invite you to ask yourself why. Believe me, I’ve been there. Reading these kinds of stories raised all sorts of emotions in me; anger, irritation, guilt, you name it… all pretty useless feelings, but I could never stop thinking that I wanted to examine why they came up. Once I had the guts to really become honest with myself, I realized there was only one way to live: to give up animal flesh, free myself of feeling bad about my choices, and fully live in alignment with my values.
Whether you choose to go vegan for the animals or for your health, or not at all, is up to you. I am not here to judge anyone, just to share my story. That said, I think we all improve ourselves when we choose to show compassion for all life, and realize humans are not “superior” animals, but that we all belong on this planet together; living in harmony, happiness and health.
In memory of my two babies who both passed on to the Rainbow Bridge this past year, Dallas and Thor. I know you are running around in the fields with your pigs, chickens and cow brothers and sisters having fun now!