[By the way, if you find this chunk of text too tedious, scroll straight to the bottom of the post for the videos.]
Early this year I made a change that I could never have foreseen - I started being vegan. I was one of those people, possibly like you, who regarded 'vegans' as a strange and extreme breed, but I didn't even understand or know anything about their choice. Looking back, I don't think I ever actually gave any thought to the reasoning behind their lifestyle, most likely I thought they simply didn't like the taste or concept of eating animals.
Well I can tell you that I am a (pretty) normal person, and until this year I was on the 'vegans are strange' side of the fence, but now here I am.
I don't judge anyone who eats animals or animal products (much, unless they really try to argue with me without having done any research, or express concern about my vitamin intake while they eat a Big Mac) because I was in the exact same position just six months ago, and ate animal products regularly for the first 31 years of my life without a second thought. Guiltily, I also remember once commenting that having a vegan partner would be grounds for a break-up. So, I know. I don't judge anyone because I know that before I came across the information that changed my mind, I simply didn't know about this stuff. This wasn't due to intentional ignorance, but quite simply, because the information had not come across my radar, at least not in a way to make me take notice. So, as I said, I don't judge people because I don't think the information has really taken flight. I also understand that giving up eating animals or animal products is an extremely difficult concept to grapple at first, when you and your family have lived this way your whole life and when so many social institutions revolve around shared eating. I don't know if it's just that I'm noticing it more now, but I think that more and more information is filtering through social media. It is only a matter of time before people won't be able to remain oblivious... the information is streaming into the public consciousness and the question will be: are you willing to allow yourself to be informed and then establish your position?
150 years ago slavery was legal and accepted as normal. Things change, civilisation evolves. The way that the world regards eating is slowly changing, too. A 2013 Public Policy Survey found that 13% of Americans identify as either vegans or vegetarians. In 1971 this figure was just 1%. Things are changing.
The happenings that led me to start eating vegan were accidental. At the beginning of this year I found myself getting really frustrated at the fact that human beings, for a supposedly intelligent species, are so confused about what we are meant to eat. I guess I was searching for information because I wanted to lose a few kilos, but became overwhelmed by all the different gurus who claim utter confidence in their diet, yet the foundations of their diets all conflict. There are the paleos, the sugar-quitters, the pro-sugars, the fasters and the anti-glutens to name just a few. SO many different groups making the matter SO confusing. There is really not a cookie-cutter approach to nutrition and what works for one may not work for another, and people will say the same about veganism (and will try to use that as an excuse). I myself tend to think that it's probably normal for people to eat seafood and very small quantities of red meat occasionally (another post) but the thing about veganism is that at the crux, it's not about the individual. Maybe in the past when the population was in control and there was less demand for food, and you could humanely kill the odd animal on the farm, it might be different? But the world population now places demands on food production that have led to mass farming and inhumane conditions for animals, hand in hand with environmental destruction. "There may be no other single human activity that has a bigger impact on the planet than the raising of livestock." (Source) 30% of the world's ice-free surface is used not to raise grains, fruits and vegetables that are directly fed to human beings, but to feed the animals that we eventually eat. Current levels of meat consumption are not environmentally sustainable.
Put simply our food choices are not just about us - they extend to animals, the environment, and even our families (i.e. our health and longevity).
I was in my lounge room one night when I asked the question, "Why don't humans know what we are supposed to eat?" I googled that very question and took to YouTube. I clicked from link to link and soon, videos in the sidebar of my YouTube popped up with titles such as "Why you should never drink milk". I glimpsed those titles and thought, "What the?" This was a completely new premise to me... I cannot recall ever having seen any information about milk being bad for you (or for the cows!) before this moment. For that reason, I can understand why people don't quite 'get' veganism yet. The information is there in spades if you search for it, but unless you go looking (or accidentally stumble upon it as I did) you probably won't see it. But I decided to click and watch, and one documentary led to another, and another, and I have been continuing my education ever since.
Did you ever realise that humans are the only species on earth to drink milk beyond infancy? Our human mother's milk is perfectly designed to provide us with everything we need in infancy, just like a cow's milk is designed to provide a calf with everything they need. Don't you think it's funny that we regard drinking a cow's milk as normal, but the idea of drinking bottled gorilla milk is weird? Did you realise that humans are the only species to consume the milk of another animal? Did you ever think how weird it would be if, in nature, we walked up to a cow and started sucking from its udder? Did you ever realise that a dairy cow can only produce milk constantly because it is repeatedly impregnated with a metal rod and kept in a constant state of pregnancy? Like humans, when cows are continuously lactating they develop mastitis, so the cows are given antibiotics to treat those infections, and then we drink those antibiotics along with the cow's hormones that are designed for a calf. Cows are a very maternal species. But when the cow has its baby, it is ripped away immediately, and many are placed in very small cages and starved, because that's what makes the most tender veal. Cows have a life expectancy of 15 years but the dairy cows collapse and die of exhaustion after a few years (standing on concrete facing a wall and hooked up to machines with their babies being repeatedly ripped away).
You know those slightly sharp teeth that we like to call our 'canines'? Have you compared them to a lion's or a dog's? Could you (or would you want to) run and chase an animal (pig, chicken, lamb, cow) down the street and rip into it, fur and all, with your bare teeth? If you were a true carnivore, that's exactly what you'd want to do. Your pointy teeth are good for piercing into fruit, not animals.
Did you know that animals are skinned alive for clothes, and did you know that cows and pigs have their testicles ripped out without any anesthetic, and that baby chickens are hooked up to de-beaking machines to slice off the most sensitive part of their body, to stop them from being able to establish a 'pecking order' in those cages? Did you realise that eggs are chicken periods... well, did you?
Some of the documentaries contain graphic and heart-wrenching videos of animal cruelty associated with the production of dairy and meat. I was on my bed watching these videos with tears running down my face. You can't mince words about this stuff because it's truly barbaric and there is no way around that. Until you open your eyes and educate yourself you won't understand. This is what I tell people: I didn't go searching for this information or lifestyle - the information kind of found me, and I couldn't "unsee" it. I had to face my conscience and make the choice whether to ignore what I'd learned or to be honest with myself. It would have been the easy road to have ignored it all; it is a massive thing and it's not always easy, but I wouldn't change my decision.
This is what I also say to people - meat is delicious. Yum. Bacon, eggs, ice cream, chocolate, cheese, chicken nuggets, butter, cream - yum yum yum - some of my favourite foods. You think I don't like the taste of those anymore? Never said they weren't delicious. This isn't about liking or not liking it; it's about something that is more important than yourself. And yeah, it's about sacrificing and saying 'no' to stuff that you know is delicious (though tastes are changing) because I know how it got to the plate, and that it's not good for me. That is the only reason that, 5-6 months on, I am still on this vegan path and still have every intention of keeping on it. If it were just about a diet - a way to lose weight, then I would 100% have ditched it by now, because as I said, animal products taste good. It's not about me though. That's why I can do it. If the welfare of animals isn't something that interests you, consider looking into it for your health. If you're not encouraged by your health but call yourself an environmentalist, look into it for that.
I am not perfect. I have heard of people who decided one day to go vegan and then that is it - I admire them, but people have different relationships and battles with food, and cold turkey didn't come easily for me. I was straight vegan for a few weeks near the beginning and I felt amazing. I had an absolutely noticeable mental clarity. After that initial strong few weeks I have slipped into old habits and do eat some animals products sometimes, i.e. some chocolate and cheese and the occasional meat dish, particularly when eating with family. For these reasons I don't say "I'm a vegan", because I am not 100%, but I am working towards it and my diet has changed considerably. The trickiest thing is the social aspect, but that could be a whole post on its own.
Anyway, I could write for hours about all the various aspects of this, both my experience, and the amazing health benefits and environmental and ethical reasons behind it, but that would be pretty tedious. Instead, I am going to post links to some of the videos that influenced me from the start, because they will explain everything in greater (and more interesting) detail than I can. Maybe later I will come back and write some more about my experiences.I hope that you will be man enough to set aside some time by yourself to watch them.
Thanks for reading.
There are many, many vegan channels on YouTube - some of the ones that I personally get the most out of are Bite Size Vegan, Freelee the Banana Girl, Andrew Perlot and Teshia Mahar. I subscribe to their channels and when I have spare moments throughout the week I'll catch up and it helps keep me inspired and informed.
On Instagram I like to follow @animaliakirstea @freeleethebananagirl and @inthesoulshine.