Four years ago this month, I decided to stop eating meat. I was taking a class with Bob Torres (best known for his book Vegan Freak) called "Food and Society". The very first unit was on vegetarianism (Bob was vegetarian at the time). We talked about the health and environmental impacts of eating meat, but most of all, about the ethical implications. Being a class full of hockey players and sorority girls, the discussions weren't very profound (I don't mean to make blanket statements here; some of my best--and smartest--friends are in sororities. But, among the girls in my class, most were the shallow bimboid variety). Still, the lecture where Bob showed us some of Sue Coe's artwork stuck in my mind. I don't remember the exact date that I gave up meat, but I remember being strong in my convictions.
Over the next year and a half I didn't really think more about my diet. I was happy being a vegetarian--I wasn't seen as too 'out-there', I didn't have to try hard to find food, and I had a fair few veggie friends. All that changed when I went to Australia for study abroad, a country with one of the highest per capita meat consumption rates in the world. I was one of the only vegetarians in my dorm of 250 students. Because the dining hall catered to only 1/10th the students that St. Lawrence did, the veggie pickings were slim. I was always accommodated, but the food was usually (1) disgusting and (2) deep-fried, starchy, or otherwise unhealthy. Many meals were either spinach & ricotta phyllo pastries, or deep fried veggie burgers. Some days it was burgers for both lunch and dinner.
Aside from crap food, the other new experience I had in Australia was being the odd one out. People were constantly questioning me about my reasons, my level of commitment, etc. They made 'jokes' as well--at least once a meal (I'm not exaggerating) someone would say "Do you want some chicken, Tez?" or "That veggie burger would be much better if you just put some bacon on it" or some other hilarious statement. As annoying as it was, I'm grateful for the experience. I learned a few important skills that would come in handy when I went vegan: I became good at articulating my reasons for being vegetarian; I learned to to veg*nize meals at restaurants; I got valuable practice dealing with jackasses; and I learned how to survive when not much food was around (peanut butter toast, and lots of soy milky meusli).
When I got back to St. Lawrence in January, Bob had gone vegan (for a few months, or a year, I don't really know), as had his wife Jenna and my good friend Nicole. While talking to Bob one day, he said simply "You should go vegan". Honestly, the thought had never occurred to me. I think I probably said something annoying like "No, I couldn't possibly live without cheese". After leaving his office, however, I thought more about it. I looked at a few websites, and realised that if I wanted to truly live by my ideals, it was the only logical choice. Anyways, I hated eggs and preferred soy to cow milk, so really, what did I have to lose? Like when I went vegetarian, I don't actually know the date, but I was definitely fully vegan by early Feb. I nearly didn't tell anyone when I made the decision. I figured I would break down and eat pizza or something, and I didn't want people looking at me like a slacker. But I let it slip to Nicole, who of course told Bob and Jenna and our friend Dan, and I had a full blown support network to keep me from slipping.
With so many experienced vegans around me, I quickly learned the ins and outs of ingredient reading. I phased out the wool and leather from my wardrobe, since wool was itchy and uncomfy anyways. It took a bit longer to make the switch to vegan beauty products (I used what my mum bought me), but I eventually did and now I only buy vegan dishsoap, laundry detergent, shampoo, soap, etc.
Contrary to popular belief, I didn't lose weight or feel super healthy immediately after dropping animal products from my life. I blame that on the uni dining hall diet. Most meals were mock meats on white buns with fries or onion rings on the side. When I graduated from uni and started cooking all of my meals, though, I did notice a change. Fresh foods and whole grains make me feel healthy from the inside out.
Now, I'm living in Australia with my non-vegan boyfriend (which has presented its own occasional challenges), still loving my lifestyle. Over the course of the past two years, my convictions have grown even stronger. When I first went vegan, I had a hard time explaining it to people. I felt attacked if they asked, and couldn't verbalize what I was thinking. Now I don't have such a hard time. Veganism, for me, isn't just a diet, but an ethical lifestyle. I'm fundamentally opposed to systems of capitalism and exploitation. Rather than hypocritically analysing the situation while munching on chicken nuggets, I've chosen to live by my principles. Just like I avoid WalMart, I try not to consume animal products (as food, clothes, products, etc.). Veganism is the logical culmination of my political and ethical beliefs. My only regret is that I didn't become vegan sooner.